Levity in the Workplace – A Conversation with #SHRM17 Speaker Scott Christopher


As part of our coverage of the 2017 SHRM Annual Conference, each of the official bloggers is conducting Q&As with session speakers.  One of the speakers I chose was Scott Christopher, CEO of Scott Christopher Communications and author of “The Levity Effect” and “People People.”  As The more I dug in and the more I learned about him, the more I was intrigued.  Scott is not only an author and speaker, but an actor as well.  Curious to know more about the benefits of a lightening up our workplaces and how exactly we’re supposed to make that happen, the following conversation en”lightened” me…

Can you start out by telling us a little about yourself and your background?

I have a master’s in HR management from UCONN, but started college with an acting scholarship. I have been a professional actor in TV and films (on the side) for 30 years having appeared in Modern Family, Criminal Minds, Granite Flats and many others. I worked many years in training and development and have authored or coauthored several books about ‘softer and gentler’ management and leadership. I’ve been speaking on these topics for decades as well and have successfully managed to marry meaningful material with mirth, which is really the best way to teach and learn.

One of the topics you speak about, and the one that you’ll talk about at SHRM17, is the “levity effect” and the concept of “levity leadership.”  What exactly is levity leadership? Why is it important in our businesses and workplaces?

Speaking specifically from an HR leadership perspective, we simply can’t lighten up ENOUGH. We are typically the initial point of contact for job candidates and those first few minutes with us often inform their opinions and feelings about the organization.  Levity is about putting others at ease, keeping things light and friendly, warm, authentic and yes, sometimes even humorous. It’s not all about being funny, it’s more about being fun. Or having the spirit of fun… smiling, laughing, gentle ribbing, etc. That same spirit of levity that helps hook them into the work culture then must be maintained throughout the whole employee lifecycle.  Most HR leaders understand this, but other organizational leaders need some help. We could do better by focusing more on the ‘H’ and less on the ‘R.’

Often times, HR professionals feel that due to the nature of their work, they need to maintain a more serious persona in the workplace...the perception that one day you may be working alongside someone, the next you may be required to investigate them, so it’s best to not let your guard down.  I’m guessing that you don’t necessarily agree with this?  Why is levity and levity leadership important to HR professionals in particular?

In addition to what I said in my previous answer, I would add that lightening up around the workforce doesn’t mean that you lose any of their respect for the sometimes serious nature of your job and theirs. Levity isn’t about becoming ‘besties’ or letting your guard down to curry favor and win more friends. Levity embraces three simple concepts: latitude, attitude and gratitude. I’ll explain these in greater detail in my session. When done right, a real levity leader finds peers, direct reports and others are more likely to respect her opinions, follow her example and go above and beyond.

Some folks may think that “fun” workplaces aren’t realistic, or only for high tech companies.  Is there a difference between the “fun workplace” we all think of in regards to tech start-ups (i.e. jungle gyms and free ice cream every day) and a workplace that embraces levity?  How do we achieve this without getting to “cutesy” or frivolous? 

Work environments are like fingerprints. No two are alike. They are so uniquely comprised that no two cultures are exactly the same even within easily scalable organizations, like McDonald’s as an example. You could replicate every detail from food assembly to restroom maintenance and still one location will not be the same as another. The key is the people. Different personalities, backgrounds, tastes, knowledge, skills, assets and more. Including humor. And fun. Creating a truly ‘fun’ workplace is up to the people. Rarely do mandatory fun policies, parties, and programs work. Cutesy or corny things are typically resented by sharp-minded employees. Building up leaders who embody the spirit of levity, who understand the fundamentals and do them, is the fastest way to lighten up a team, department, or workgroup.  Fun will grow organically, as it’s allowed by leadership, and it will take on its own identity and personality, reflective of its creators.

In addition to your book “The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up” you also wrote a book called “People People.”  In our modern, technology driven workplaces, do you think we’ve lost some of the humanity in them?  Is it HR’s responsibility to promote and nurture more human workplaces, and if so how do we do that?

Levity is just one of the four fundamental facets of the greater goal of becoming a real people person. Why? “People people” not only energize the collective work experience of peers and subordinates but they enhance and strengthen relationships with clients. In a business climate where face-to-face business is fading fast, people skills are becoming a real differentiator and value add. Who better to champion the strategic value of PEOPLE skills than the PEOPLE department? Not only can HR professionals personally model real people-friendly personalities but also provide more and better ‘people skills’ education.

What can attendees expect from your session at SHRM17?  Anything else you’d like to share about it?

The Levity Effect is consistently one of the highest rated sessions at SHRM. It is relevant, provocative and highly entertaining. I practice what I preach in this session. You will laugh. And you will learn.  I’ve been called brazen. Cheeky even.  Maybe. But as one of the final speakers on the last day of SHRM17, I guarantee attendees who hang on ‘til the bitter end and join me in my session will not only not be disappointed, but will scream with laughter, ache with joyous pain and be sent on their way wondering why The Levity Effect wasn’t a general session so more people could hear it.  I told you I was brazen. :-)

Scott’s session “The Levity Effect: It Pays for HR to Lighten Up” will take place on Wednesday, June 21 from 10:00 – 11:15 a.m.  

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