Saturday, April 26, 2008

Yes, You Can Have Fun During a Recession

Jan Norman at the Orange County Register today posted a portion of my article on having more fun and reducing stress at work. Here is the post on her blog. Even if you don't live in the Orange County area, Jan's blog includes some great articles to help managers and business owners find success.
For Jan's readers (and really everyone else) here is the entire article.

Twelve Ideas to Reduce Stress and Have more Fun at Work

It’s hard to have fun at work during stressful times. Your stress builds after each media report about the recession. You start hearing whispers of a merger, layoff or the all encompassing “restructuring.” Your manager does not listen. Your customers don’t listen. The guy that sells sandwiches in the lobby does not listen. Maybe it is just easier to be cranky.

Maybe your sales numbers are down this quarter. Clients are taking longer to make decisions. You start to worry about expenses. What happens next? You walk into your next important meeting a bundle of nerves, tension and worry. Do you really think you are at your best?
It is time to stop worrying and relax. Give yourself a break. Stop letting the media feed your fears with the dreaded “r” word. Even during an “r” people work. Companies manufacture, transport, distribute, sell, market, advertise, produce, grow, research, develop, entertain, build and purchase. We have to figure out a way to do it without being cranky and stressed. Yes, we need to have more fun.

I sense that many of you have thrown this magazine down on the table, rearing back from these words with a shriek. How dare we have fun during a merger/recession/layoff/restructure/something else that takes up time before retirement? Fun is scary. Fun does not work. We are not fun people.

Yes, you can have fun. And in the process, reduce your stress and help create a more productive, innovative and fun work environment. First, we have to create a foundation so that fun can exist. Here are twelve simple ideas to reduce your stress at work and have more fun.

1. Be patient and positive in your tone of voice. Sounds simple, but a reassuring and patient tone in your voice will do wonders for teamwork and for helping reduce stress. You will rarely see a stressed, impatient person having fun. Watch people stand in line at the airport. The guy in the suit with three carry on bags and a phone hooked into the Matrix is not having fun. The guy in the Hawaiian shirt and hat made from palm reeds is relaxed and having fun. Same standing in line. Different attitude.

2. Take a break. Again, a simple idea but something that has very real results. Ever try and assemble something from the store? Ever get frustrated? Ever throw the directions across the room in frustration? Stop, take a break, and then reassess. Just a few moments away will give you the energy to move forward.

3. Think about what makes a great day at work. The next time you have fun at work, take a moment to reflect. Write down what happened that made the day so great. What did you do? What did you say? You now have your “great day” list. You know what you need. Work toward it. Fun is different for everyone. Remember the kid in your high school algebra class who got really excited when he solved a complex math problem? That is fun for him. For me, math is the equivalent of jury duty, going to the dentist, and cleaning the garage all in the same day.

4. Sometimes you have to ask. If something is bothering you and causing stress, then speak up and say something. Most people will just stew or whine in the break room rather than speak up. They don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Guess what? Someone’s feelings are being hurt – your feelings. If you ask nicely, most people would be happy to oblige and help. They probably don’t even know their words or actions are bothering you.

5. Be in the moment with your co-workers. Working in the moment means being focused and connected. Listen to each other. Make eye contact. Engage in the communication process. Try something new: put your e-mail enabled phone down and communicate with the living, breathing person sitting in your office.

6. Tell your co-workers you appreciate them. We all want positive support at work. When we don’t receive appreciation and thanks, we are not very happy. You know how you feel when someone says, “You made a difference,” or “Great job,” or “I really appreciate your help.” You get an incredible feeling right in the middle of your chest. Giving that feeling is a gift. And it does not take a budget, plan, or approval. It just takes a few seconds from your day.

7. Create opportunity. We all want the same things from our jobs: opportunity and positive support. We may want the opportunity to be creative; to be a leader; to help people; or to make more money. When we don’t receive opportunity and positive support, we are not very happy. Figure out what kind of opportunity you want from your job. Make sure your employer understands what you need to be happy. Again, stand up and say something.

8. Be a better listener. Everyone thinks they are good listeners. In reality, we get into bad habits that prevent us from being good, active listeners. We multi-task. We wait to talk. We play solitaire on our computer during a conference call. Pay attention to your listening skills. When we listen, we are more effective as a team; we are better communicators; we are more productive; and we have more fun.

9. Be flexible to change. When change happens, ask yourself two important questions: Does this change affect my ability to be happy and successful in my job? Does this change affect the ability of those around me – my family, colleagues, clients, and vendors – to be happy and successful in their jobs? If both answers are no, then you know the change is not worth creating stress.

10. If you really want to reduce your stress, make a list of everything that caused you stress and frustration in the last week. Take a really hard look at what you wrote. You will giggle. Why? Because most of the things on that list don’t matter. Sure, there are some very important items on the list. Most of the items, though, we will forget about in a short time. Why do we forget? Because they really were not that important. When you are in the middle of a stressful and frustrating situation, take a moment and ask, “Am I going to giggle about this in a week?”

11. Help your teammates (stressed or otherwise) take ownership of their happiness and passion. Too many times, employees let other people’s actions or words determine their happiness. Happiness is a choice. Unfortunately, when we give control to other employees, managers, customers, partners, or vendors, we are never very happy. We have to take back that ownership. We have no control over many things at work. We always can have control of our reaction and our attitude.

12. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. During my presentations, I use improvisation as a tool to communicate my messages. The audience participants engage in the process with passion and energy. They have fun. They are relaxed. Because they are enjoying the process, they are more creative and productive. Why? They are not afraid of making a mistake. They understand they are working in a positive and supportive environment. We are all going to make mistakes. We want to minimize our mistakes and learn from them. If we take some of the pressure off, and support each other, we will figure out that we will make fewer mistakes. We will also have more fun.

I hope these twelve ideas will help you reduce your stress. Fun helps create the energy and passion that fuels our productivity, creativity and effectiveness. Without fun, we don’t have any fuel. Just like everything, fun is a choice. We each have to take responsibility and ownership of our fun and our goal to reduce stress. Remember, it is always your choice.

Joel Zeff ( is a national workplace expert, speaker, author and humorist. He shares his experience and insight on creativity, communication, work/life balance, leadership, teamwork, passion, and fun through his speaking presentations and book, “Make the Right Choice: Creating a Positive, Innovative and Productive Work Life”. He has appeared on CNBC’s The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, the Fox Network’s Fox and Friends Weekend and been featured in the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, The Kansas City Star, and many other media outlets. For more information on his book, please visit

Friday, April 18, 2008

Improv Everywhere and Phil Gerbyshak

A friend told me about Phil Gerbyshak's web site. She wanted me to check out his site and this recent post about Improv Everywhere.

I have to give credit to Phil. He definitely has a cool blog packed with useful articles and information. More importantly, the site has a very positive and fun vibe. The real credit goes to Phil for introducing me to Improv Everywhere.

Improvisation is an art form. As someone who has performed improvisation for almost 15 years, I am always excited to see how others are pushing the boundaries and experimenting with the form.

In my presentations and book, I use improvisation as a teaching tool. I always encourage anyone interested in improvisation to enjoy all of the different flavors it offers. Each improvisation group uses their own techniques and spin. That is what makes improvisation so exciting.

Be sure to check out Phil' site:
Be sure to check out Improv Everywhere's site:

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Humor and Fun at Work

Everyone says we are in a recession. I am sure "fun at work" or "humor at work" are not the topics of choice right now. Remember the key lesson in improvisation: you have to stay in the game. Yes, there will be challenges and obstacles. The easy answer is to quit. If you stay in the game, you might have to work harder, learn something new, or get out of your comfort zone. If we stay in the game, we are guaranteed success.

There are many things we cannot control. We can always control our attitude and how we react to a situation. Too many times we give this control to others. The result is frustration, stress and working without passion. Doesn't sound fun, huh?

Well, maybe a few laughs will help. First up is a story from the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. Matt Wickenheiser wrote a great article about humor at work. I think this is an important topic during the current economy. Mergers, layoffs, recession all can drain the fun out of work. What happens then? Where do we find our energy for our creativity, productivity and success?

The really cool thing about Matt's article is he asked a couple of the sources in the story to record a joke for the Press Herald's web site. I was thrilled to contribute. I told one of my favorites: The Green Gorilla joke. This joke was told to me by my 8th grade history teacher. Now, Matt doesn't set me up very well. I know he was trying to warn the listeners that the joke is kind of long. Yes, it is a long joke. Yes, the punchline is silly. Still, it is one of my favorites. The joke is also a very physical joke, and better told in person. So, keep that in mind.

Anyway, here is the link to the article and a link to the joke recording:



Finally, one more link. I was recently interviewed on the Fox Network. I am sorry to say I was not on Bill O'Reilly's show. I appeared on Fox and Friends Weekend about "recession-proofing your job". I had a great time.

A few points of interest as you view the link:

1. Watch me dart my eyes back and forth at the beginning of the interview. Uh, scary.

2. Count the number of times I say, "you know." Shameful.

3. Try to answer the question, "Why is Joel holding a puppy?"

Here is the link:

Until next week, Rock Chalk Jayhawk.