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The bottom line? Lighten up a bit

The Levity Effect cover

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: How about this for a way to head off into the weekend. Backing off a little bit at the office can actually help the bottom line. Not slacking off, but just having a sense of humor. Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher make that case in their new book, "The Levity Effect." Guys, thanks for being here.

SCOTT CHRISTOPHER: Thank you.

ADRIAN GOSTICK: Thanks, Kai.

RYSSDAL: Scott, you know, when you think of humor in the office, one of the things people think about is Steve Carell from the television show, "The Office," and how, try though he might, he just can't be funny. And here's what it sounds like:

STEVE CARELL: Ah, here's the thing. Whatever I write here has to be really, really funny because people out there are expecting it. I've already set the bar really high. And they're all worried about their jobs. You know, it's kind of dark out there. Can you imagine if I wrote something like, uh, oh, "Meredith, um, happy birthday. You're great. Love, Michael."

RYSSDAL: So, Scott, first question: Does levity mean funny?

CHRISTOPHER: Absolutely not. I look at levity as kind of an umbrella term. It's not necessarily being a humor initiator or a humor generator. But quite often, especially for the vast majority of people who aren't born with a brilliant sense of humor, it's about being a humor enabler or even a humor tolerator. Just allowing it to happen, etc.

RYSSDAL: Yeah, that's the thing, right? There's the downside risk of trying to force it.

CHRISTOPHER: Exactly. Yeah. You come off as insincere. It feels disingenuine. It's like you're trying to push certain buttons that you simply don't possess.

RYSSDAL: All right. Well, Adrian, assuming you possess the buttons, what do you do to get this levity in the office?

GOSTICK: Well, there's a lot of things that great companies do.We looked at companies like, oh, KPMG, a Big Four accounting firm . . .

RYSSDAL: I'm sorry. Wait a minute. They just don't sound like a levity kind of place.

GOSTICK: Exactly, you've got auditors and accountants. And as they studied their workforce, they found that the number three thing that employees said . . . "To get me engaged, you've got to give me more fun at the workplace. And so they started doing fun things online. You know, pick the Oscar winners and download your favorite vacation photo.

RYSSDAL: Is it sort of the Silicon Valley thing where if you provide ping-pong tables and scooters through the hallway you'll get more productivity out of people?

CHRISTOPHER: There is, in fact, statistical correlations to support that. That where people have the chance to lighten up, to have a release valve, they appreciate that latitude that's extended to them. And they realize those are kind of fun perks that their neighbors don't have at their job. And so they're willing to actually work a little harder to keep that trust relationship there.

RYSSDAL: All right, so, Adrian, let's say you get a job at uh, oh, I don't know, a public radio program and you need to lighten things up and improve the atmosphere around here, er, you know, well, somewhere. What do you do?

GOSTICK: Couple of things. Start by being self-deprecating in your humor. You know, everybody loves to laugh at the boss. And if you're poking a little fun at yourself it's a great place to begin this process.

RYSSDAL: Scott, which one of you guys is the funny one?

CHRISTOPHER: We're both funny in our own way to be honest with you.

RYSSDAL: Oh, come on....

CHRISTOPHER: No, it's true. No, no, really. Adrian has a really tight, educated sense of humor. It's perhaps not as bombastic. But, um....

GOSTICK: Scott's the funny one.

CHRISTOPHER: No, that's not true. I haven't been . . . I have not demonstrated one shred of funniness in this entire interview. Not at all. Nothing.

RYSSDAL: All right. Clearly, you guys are making money at it, anyway. Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher are writers and consultants and who knows what else. Their book is called "The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up." Guys, thanks a lot.

GOSTICK: Thanks, Kai.

CHRISTOPHER: Thank you so much, Kai.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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