Using humour when job coaching

By Joanna Samuels, MEd

In my frontline work as a job coach in the supported employment sector, humour is needed now more than ever. Current practices and research indicate strong support for using humour when appropriate in counselling, therapy and teaching. It can improve the attention of the individuals involved, and engage them in learning the skills required for their job search. Sharing humour and laughter about difficult subjects, such as unemployment, can facilitate adult learning—and the learner’s satisfaction and understanding of the subject are improved.

Further, since learning occurs through involvement and enjoyment, humour creates a positive emotional atmosphere that can reduce anxiety and help individuals to cope more productively with stressful situations. It has the potential to break down the social distance between counsellor and client, as well as to enable effective learning for all ages and cultures. Using humour in practice offers many benefits, including building and maintaining rapport between the learner (client) and teacher (job coach).

Engaging in humour and laughter enhances creativity and divergent thinking—the ability of the brain to bring together diverse ideas that will generate the thinking necessary for complex problem-solving.

“I have to have a raise,” the man said to his boss.
“There are three other companies after me.”

“What other companies?” asked the manager.

“The electric company, the telephone company and the gas company.”

I am seeing an increase in the number of people with disabilities and multiple barriers looking for work on my caseload. The challenge to secure employers and job leads, and to place our talented job seekers in the competitive labour market has intensified, combined with higher expectations of paid placements for our clients from funders.

From my experiences and observations as a job coach for more than a decade, I believe that as long as supported employment professionals are sensitive to the diversity and needs of the people they are aiding, and to when and where humour and laughter may be used in those relationships, this can have a positive effect in helping individuals to achieve their job and career goals and helping employers with recruitment. This article presents just a few techniques that job developers can use to create a fun, trusting and educational experience for their clients.

Funny cartoons or comic strips

Sharing humour and laughter about difficult subjects can facilitate adult learning, and comprehension of the subject is improved. For example, funny cartoons are excellent “plays on life” and mirror what is going on in a client’s personal life, or what is happening in the Canadian workplace. Dilbert or Peanuts, for example, can be used in a job-search workshop, especially to teach more complex skills such as networking, proving a point or explaining Canadian workplace culture to a newcomer.

Comic strips can be designed to simulate real-life events and discussions in workshops or one-on-one sessions with clients. They can be replaced daily or weekly on the employment resource centre’s website and on job and information boards. It might be even be fun to include cartoons and comic strips in the curriculum and lesson plans of workshops or sessions. However, researchers warn that it is important to be sensitive when choosing cartoons, especially when working with a culturally  diverse population.

Employers also enjoy reading comic strips that I email to them (with great caution regarding appropriateness); it improves our rapport. A funny clip from the internet
can lighten the atmosphere with an employer, especially when a placement does not work out!

Funny quotes, jokes and sayings

Another way to add humour and laughter in job development practices is to clip funny quotations, sayings or jokes from books, magazines and the internet, or even to quote an employee, employer or client. As with the funny cartoons, these can be placed on your bulletin board and the employment centre’s job board. Reader’s Digest or other comical websites are some good sources for material. Again, it is important to be careful with your selection. Quotes that put someone down should NOT
be used. As we hopefully all know, humour should be a way to laugh with other people, not at them.

Funny anecdotes

Another way of teaching job-search skills such as “how to network” is to share a relevant story with a humorous outcome. For example, here is a story that I often share with job seekers on my caseload: “I was working with an individual in our supported employment program who was looking for work in food services. Together we visited employers in her area in the sector and learned about each business. We met in advance to prepare for meeting these employers. One of the employers we visited turned out to be her friend’s cousin. What a small world (and what a relief). Luck and humor can sometimes go hand in hand!”

YouTube clips are highly entertaining and can be a good tool to use when teaching job readiness or soft or hard skills. I use popular videos that parody the job interview process and demonstrate the absurdity of it, including funny clips from famous television shows such as Friends, The Office and Seinfeld. The class typically bursts out laughing and, on a serious note, I use the clips to demonstrate what not to do in an interview! This leads to an interesting discussion on analyzing interviews.

A smile can be contagious, particularly during high-stress periods. Job developers and job coaches who smile when working with their clients create a sense of well-being and satisfaction with themself, their job and the workplace. The smile exudes a positive attitude and makes clients feel warm and welcome. Similarly, we teach our job seekers to smile at an interviewer. Job coaches should do the same with the individuals in service and employers, as it helps to build the trust and rapport required in these professional relationships.

A rehabilitation counsellor asks a colleague:
“What time is it?”
The colleague answers: “Sorry, don’t know.”
The counsellor: “Never mind! The main thing is
we talked about it.”

Be careful

Humour can be complicated—it is highly personal, subjective and contextual, and the facilitator or trainer cannot always predict how it will be received. Both the individuals in our employment programs and employers have diverse interpretations of what they find amusing. This can be due to a number of differences, including a person’s temperament, personal inherited characteristics, learning style, age and life experiences. Other factors, including culture, ethnicity and community, can also play a role in determining what is considered funny. People from different cultures may respond to humour in different ways; in fact, some might not recognize humour as socially acceptable. What is funny to one person can be rude or even hurtful to another.

Effectively fun

An effective job coach can use comic strips or cartoons, funny quotes, anecdotes or stories and YouTube clips to create humour and laughter to keep clients and employers engaged and motivated. The research in the literature stresses that when used competently and appropriately, humour and laughter can create a fun learning environment and increase a client’s comprehension, motivation and participation in their job search. Furthermore, humour is an effective tool to build professional relationships and rapport with employers and co-workers.

As job coaches, we have to take our work seriously—but we should not take ourselves too seriously. And remember, humour should always be a way to laugh with other people and not at others.

Joanna Samuels, MEd, is an adult educator with an expertise in career/job coaching and community/business partnership building. She is also is an employment resource supervisor at reena.org.

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