Karyn Buxman

Catching Up With Karyn

Archive for September, 2008

Humor: The Heart of the Matter

Scientists continue to support what we’ve known to be true since Biblical times: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”  Studies in psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) have demonstrated that humor, laughter and positive emotions have a positive effect on the immune system, the respiratory system and now evidence shows a link between a healthy heart and a sense of humor.

A team of Maryland medical researchers found in a study of 300 people (half of whom had histories of heart problems) that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in humorous situations than those with healthy hearts.  “The old saying that laughter is the best medicine definitely appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart,” said Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventative Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The people with heart disease were much less likely to even recognize humor. They also laughed less, even in positive situations, and generally displayed more anger and hostility than people with healthy hearts.  The question remains: Does humor help prevent heart problems or do people with heart problems tend to lose their senses of humor?  “The ability to laugh — either naturally or as learned behavior — may have important implications in societies such as the U.S., where heart disease remains the No. 1 killer,” Miller said.

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Stress Busters

There’s no one coping mechanism that will work for every stressful occasions. People need a variety of skills to stay healthy. These could include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation just to name a few.  But the benefits of humor and laughter are so plentiful, so convenient, and so cost-effective that people would be foolish to leave these awesome coping tools out of their coping toolbox.

Here are a few quick stress busters. Try one the next time your energy level drops and your attitude is sagging:

Call your own answering machine or voice mail to leave a humorous message that you can enjoy later. Bonus—you get to laugh twice: Once when you leave the message and again when you play it back.  (For example: “Just calling to remind you to be careful when you go by the post office to pick up stamps and be sure to wear clean underwear because you never know when you might be in an accident!”)

Keep a file folder at your desk with clippings, cartoons, and e-mails you find entertaining. Pull it out and refer to it when you’re put on hold or when you feel those shoulders tightening.

Keep a book of word games, crossword puzzles, or cards at your desk. Re-spark your creativity and energy by taking a daily 10-minute ‘play break’ and you’ll recognize how important it is not to wait until you feel better to play. Play and then you’ll feel better.

Got a problem that’s bugging you?  Practice playing with your pain by asking yourself “how could this be worse?” Exaggerate the situation until you can make it absurd enough to put things in their proper perspective.

Smiles and laughs can diminish muscle tension. They’re also contagious. Practice wearing a smile to share with others and notice how their responses make you feel better, too.

Gain maximum benefits by proactively seeking humor every day.

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Humor, Cancer and Chronic Illness

“I’m not afraid of dying.  I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  Woody Allen

Pat’s hand gripped mine tightly– her eyes glistened with mischief. “I so look forward to your visits. Everyone else around here is so darned serious!  I wish they’d just lighten up a little.”  I looked around the room and she was right. Her 58-year-old husband and 32-year-old daughter sat on the couch, looking as if a smile would shatter their faces into a million pieces.  “Tell me something funny that happened to you this week,” she continued. “What’s that little boy of yours been up to now?”

Pat was one of several patients that I made home visits to as a nurse, following up after her chemo and radiation for a tumor in her neck and jaw. Physically she was doing fine and her outlook was tremendous. However, her family had an attitude that could sink a battle ship. Even though Pat valued laughter, her family felt her condition was much too serious to permit using humor.

Despite the tremendous advances in cancer treatment, just the word “cancer” evokes a visceral reaction in many people. This includes family, friends, and even some health care providers. One of my patients shared that when she attempted to make a joke about her condition, her husband reprimanded her: “Honey, you shouldn’t be making jokes.  Don’t you realize how serious your condition is?”  This came as no surprise to me. A survey of terminally ill patients showed that over three fourths of them said they wanted more humor but that their family would not joke with them.

Does humor serve a purpose for those with terminal or chronic conditions?  Absolutely. Humor serves many purposes, including relieving anxiety, managing painful feelings, and releasing anger in a socially acceptable way. Humor is a wonderful coping mechanism that can help by reframing or seeing situations in a new light.

Distraction serves as another useful purpose. Sometimes humor helps to divert our attention, instead of focusing on what’s stressful to us at the moment. Humor can often provide relief, whether it’s from an uncomfortable needle stick or the unpleasant side effects of a medication. Scientists are collecting more evidence every day that humor, laughter, and positive emotions have numerous physical benefits, including a decrease in muscle tension and an enhanced immune system.

Where do you find humor? Fortunately it’s all around you. You just have to be looking for it. It’s a mindset, an attitude. It is not the same thing as joke telling, which may come as a relief to some of you. However, if you want to learn to tell jokes, practice telling a joke out loud to yourself seven times before you attempt it with someone else. (Once you blow the punchline, there’s no saving it.)

Better than jokes are personal experiences or embarrassing moments. Few adults have not locked their keys in their cars, or found their zippers unzipped, or discovered a colorful piece of food stuck between their teeth when trying to impress someone. When sharing these universal events, we share our vulnerabilities and our willingness to trust others.  If you can see any humor in it at all, try sharing an embarrassing moment with a friend or family member.

Schedule some time for play daily. Many folks this frivolous and their lowest priority, but research now indicates that those who are too serious to allow time for play wind up seriously ill. Make a “list of things you find pleasurable and fun to do (some of these ideas should be of little or no cost). Then when you are most in need of lightening up but unable to think of anything fun to do, pull out your list and make an agreement to do at least one thing. You will feel better afterwards.

Get out of your rut. Do something out of the ordinary. It can be something as minor as sleeping on the other side of the bed, listening to a different type of music than you’re accustomed to, leaving for work 20 minutes early to take the scenic route, paying for the toll of the guy behind you, sending a cartoon to a coworker, taking a bubble bath by candle light, calling an old friend from high school— just use your imagination!  I once watched in bewilderment as a friend tossed his loose change into the couch in his hotel room.  “What are you doing?!” I exclaimed.  He smiled and said, “Even though I won’t be here to see it, someday someone’s going to have fun discovering the money in this couch.”

No matter what your physical condition, humor can benefit you.  Plan a daily humor break and reap your profits. Make the most of every day– lighten up!

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Today’s Nursing Crisis: A Laughing Matter?

Did you hear the one about…?  According to a recent study, one of every three U.S. nurses surveyed under age 30 plans to leave their jobs within the next year. One in five nurses plans to leave the profession within five years because of unsatisfactory working conditions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 450,000 additional registered nurses will be needed to fill the present demand.  Experts worry about the year 2020, when the registered nurse shortage is projected to reach 500,000 positions, coinciding with the increasing needs of healthcare in an aging U.S. population.

It is obvious that the state of health care today is no joke.  But it may be a laughing matter, if one understands the premise that humor oftentimes is generated by painful circumstances.  There is nothing funny about unlimited resources, job security or a physician who responds quickly and cheerfully to a nurse’s request. The things that make nurses laugh tend to be the very things that drive nurses crazy.

Whether it’s a picky patient, a cranky coworker, or a demanding doctor, nurses frequently have no control over the stressors that arise in their work setting. They do, however, have a choice in how they respond to those pressures.  No single tactic will be appropriate for every situation, so a healthy nurse needs to have a variety of strategies. Numerous means of coping with stress in a healthy manner are available, and one of those ways is with humor.

There are three primary roles of humor in the healthcare setting: psychological, social, and communication.

Psychological.   As nurses become more anxious and their focus becomes narrower, they become less creative and are more easily upset. Stress may not come from the event, itself, as much as from the nurse’s perception of that event. Humor provides a perceptual flexibility that can increase one’s sense of control. Learning techniques such as catastrophizing the event, where one takes the situation at hand and looks for the absurdity by asking, “How could this be worse?” may help the nurse put the event into its proper perspective.

Social.  As Victor Borge, a well-known comedian, said so eloquently, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” When two or more can share in amusement, there is a commonality experienced among them, thus creating a bond. Some types of shared humor, such as self-effacing humor, reveal one’s own flaws, ‘humanness’ and vulnerability. This ‘revelation’ creates an environment where the listener feels that it’s safe to share, helping to develop rapport and establish or strengthen relationships. For that moment, the humor helps to diminish the perceived hierarchy, such as nurse/patient, doctor/nurse, or teacher/student while all involved participate in the fun.

Communication.  Sometimes a joke is just a joke.  But often, true words are spoken in jest. It may be helpful for the nurse to know that frequently people will present a serious concern in the guise of a joke. A patient may joke about an embarrassing or frightening situation. If her nurse responds in the manner that she had hoped, she has achieved her desired outcome. However, if the nurse doesn’t recognize the serious nature of her comment, then she has the ability to “save face” with the rationale that she was “only joking.” The skill for nurses is in learning to listen beyond the laughter, whether the person addressing them is a peer, patient, family member, or doctor.

Physiological effect.  In addition to the functions of humor, the physiological effect of humor is identified as a benefit.  Most nurses have experienced at least one negative physiological effect of stress: Muscle tension, cold hands, headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances, among others. While researchers have spent years identifying the negative effects of stress on body systems, they are now looking at the therapeutic effects of humor and laughter on the human body.  These include decreased muscle tension, deeper respirations, and positive increases in the immune system.

As nurses practice to improve their abilities to use and appreciate humor, they also enhance their skills.  “Humor appreciation involves responding to humor produced by others or being a good audience. On the other hand, humor production involves thinking of things on your own to amuse yourself or others,” says Michelle Newman, PhD. When using humor as a coping mechanism, one cannot always count on being able to find an external locus of amusement.  “Of the two, humor production is the more portable skill,” says Newman and adds, “From the standpoint of coping, it seems to me to be less important whether you can amuse other people than whether you can amuse yourself.”  The implication for nurses is that while they may gain benefits from humor when enjoying it passively, there are even more benefits in being active participants by producing a humorous state of mind for themselves.

Some nurses have shown themselves to be highly creative. One nurse carried a marker to decorate disposable gloves and masks on isolation carts.  A critical care nurse took a couple of adhesive EKG patches, attached them to the bottom of her shoes and “tap danced” her stress away during her break.  At a medical-surgical nurses station, whenever someone would shout “Massage Train!” everyone on hand would line up, put their hands gently on the shoulders of the person in front of them and soothingly massage. Before disbanding, they would switch directions of the line so the person on the end wouldn’t be left out. The whole procedure lasted only a minute or two, but everyone proceeded to their next task with a big smile.

Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” list of fun things for nurses to do. Because everyone’s sense of humor is unique, the techniques used to create humor must be highly individualized. The methods need not be flamboyant to be effective. For example, some nurses might be comfortable wearing a small decorative pin with an amusing picture or statement on it, particularly at seasonal times. Colorful clothing with festive accents might be an option if dress codes do not forbid. Some nurses are subtle, wearing Looney Tunes socks or Mickey Mouse jewelry while others walk the halls wearing a red sponge nose or carrying a rubber chicken! Posting cartoons and illustrations can brighten up any nursing unit.  Sharing jokes, stories, or embarrassing moments are other ways to generate laughter.  Humor baskets, carts and humor rooms are means of creating a more humorous environment.

Nurse researcher Vera Robinson once said that a sign of a profession’s maturity is its ability to laugh at itself. The profession of nursing is surely mature enough to be able to laugh at itself, and yet many nurses still refrain from using the skill of humor on the grounds that it is not “professional.”  Humor is not the equivalent of “goofing off.”  Indeed, it is important for nurses to maintain high standards and high expectations on their units and to take their work seriously. It is also important for nurses to be able to take themselves lightly. Sad is the nurse who cannot learn to separate the two– and that is no joke.

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Mirth Managment: Kudos to Cosmoflex

Kudos to Cosmoflex, Inc. in Hannibal, MO and to the ingenuity of Operations Manager, Max Nicholson and Safety Committee Member, Mike Allen. The task: A 3-year safety certification required by OSHA for all 50 employees at the plant. The creative solution: A rodeo with a forklift—No bull!

Over the course of 2 days, all four shifts at Cosmoflex (a subsidiary company of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.) participated in a certification process like none before. Outside the plant, a course involving all the necessary skills for using a forklift was laid out and put into place. Exercises included a ‘Loaded Figure 8’, the ‘Stack and Back’, the ‘Ram and Jam’ and removing a basketball from a pylon and dropping into a basket. The safety committee judged the employees individually and as teams on knowledge, accuracy, speed, and safety. During the competition, everyone enjoyed an outdoor barbeque, drinks and music.

The initial goal was simply to complete certification for all employees. When asked if there were any unexpected benefits, Nicholson and Allen agreed that they hadn’t anticipated the amount of strategizing and teamwork they observed. “You can’t force teamwork,” said Allen. “We saw great communication and tons of enthusiasm. People were hooting and hollering, and lots of laughing.” He added, “This really perked up everyone’s attitude, and in a small plant—attitudes are contagious.”

This year’s winner, Brad Pemberton (with an individual time of 6 minutes and 36 seconds), won a gift certificate for Lula Belle’s—a popular local restaurant/bed and breakfast. Team winners enjoyed a pizza dinner at the plant.

Was there a downside? Nicholson said, “Just that the employees didn’t want to return to their posts—they enjoyed watching their coworkers compete.” Even though the certification is good for 3 years, Cosmoflex plans to repeat the event because of the overwhelmingly positive feedback.

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Humor Appreciation: Taking It to The Next Level

I sipped my coffee and listened to my friend vent about her company’s merger. “I was so stressed out about the new changes being implemented at work,” Susan explained while rolling her eyes. “Then someone said something silly and I just lost it. I laughed and laughed until I was limp as a dishrag. Nothing had changed, but I just felt better for having laughed!”

It’s becoming accepted knowledge that positive benefits can be acquired from appreciating humor and laughter. Psychologist Michele Newman supported previous studies that found humor has a buffering effect and reduces the negative effects of stress. This study extended previous findings by demonstrating that humor is beneficial even for people who do not typically choose to use it to cope with stress. This finding was consistent with the belief that the ability to use humor to cope can be acquired rather than being a fixed, unchangeable trait.”

“Humor appreciation involves responding to humor produced by others or being a good audience,” reports Newman. “On the other hand, humor production involves thinking of things on your own to amuse yourself or others.” When using humor as a coping mechanism, one cannot always count on being able to find an external reason to be amused. “Of the two, humor production is the more portable skill,” says Newman and adds, “From the standpoint of coping, it seems to me to be less important whether you can amuse other people than whether you can amuse yourself.”

Through my years of studying humor and laughter, I’ve observed three basic levels of humor appreciation:

Passive humor appreciation: At this most basic level, we appreciate humor that happens vicariously: A coworker says something funny, we observe a child’s comical action or expression, or we experience some absurdity that happens by chance. With this most basic level of humor we enjoy many of the functions of humor and the basic physical benefits, although the humor may occur infrequently and is purely unintentional.

Active humor appreciation: At this level, our awareness level is raised and we intentionally seek humor opportunities. We make it a point to read the daily comics, we ask others to share a joke or story, we become aware of humor we might have otherwise missed if we had made the assumption: Nothing funny happens here. We incur benefits more frequently, although not necessarily on a regular basis.

Proactive humor creation: At this advanced level, conscious effort is involved. We attempt to create humor opportunities. We schedule time for play and entertainment in our daily schedules. We purposely create situations to amuse others or ourselves. We establish goals to utilize humor on a regular basis and attempt to make humor a habit. We enjoy the positive functions and benefits of humor on a regular basis.
While we may gain benefits from humor and laughter when enjoying it passively, there are even more advantages in being active participants by producing a humorous state of mind for ourselves. By incorporating a ‘humor habit’, we gain maximum profit from the wide and wonderful range of benefits at our disposal. Why not get the most bang for your yuck? Make humor a habit!

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Stress Busters

There’s no one coping mechanism that will work for every stressful occasions. People need a variety of skills to stay healthy. These could include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation just to name a few. But the benefits of humor and laughter are so plentiful, so convenient, and so cost-effective that people would be foolish to leave these awesome coping tools out of their coping toolbox.

Here are a few quick stress busters. Try one the next time your energy level drops and your attitude is sagging:

Call your own answering machine or voice mail to leave a humorous message that you can enjoy later. Bonus—you get to laugh twice: Once when you leave the message and again when you play it back. (For example: “Just calling to remind you to be careful when you go by the post office to pick up stamps and be sure to wear clean underwear because you never know when you might be in an accident!”)

Keep a file folder at your desk with clippings, cartoons, and e-mails you find entertaining. Pull it out and refer to it when you’re put on hold or when you feel those shoulders tightening.

Keep a book of word games, crossword puzzles, or cards at your desk. Re-spark your creativity and energy by taking a daily 10-minute ‘play break’ and you’ll recognize how important it is not to wait until you feel better to play. Play and then you’ll feel better.

Got a problem that’s bugging you? Practice playing with your pain by asking yourself “how could this be worse?” Exaggerate the situation until you can make it absurd enough to put things in their proper perspective.

Smiles and laughs can diminish muscle tension. They’re also contagious. Practice wearing a smile to share with others and notice how their responses make you feel better, too.

Gain maximum benefits by proactively seeking humor every day.

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What happened to The Journal of Nursing Jocularity?

Thanks for asking. I was Vice-President of the JNJ during its eight year stint and best friends with publisher, Doug Fletcher. Doug had a great vision when he created the JNJ and left a tremendous legacy. His untimely death, and the deaths of our friends and colleagues Bob Diskin (Too Live Nurse), Georgia Moss, and Diane Rumsey, left a huge void in the world of healthcare humor. In Doug’s honor, AATH has named its Lifetime Achievement Award after Doug (see www.aath.org)

Below is an announcement I created when we ceased publication of the JNJ. Barely a day goes by that I don’t think of Doug and smile.

The Journal of Nursing Jocularity was a quarterly publication for nurses and health professionals that was written, edited, illustrated and published by nurses and health professionals. The first issue was Spring, 1991; the last issue was the Spring, 1998. Filled with satire, true stories, cartoons, and all around funny stuff related to nursing and health care – it established its place in nursing history as the only humor magazine for nurses.
With the death of Doug Fletcher, Diane Rumsey, Georgia Moss, Bob Diskin, and Debra Woodbury on May 1, 1998 the Journal of Nursing Jocularity ultimately ceased publication.
Below is the news report from the Albany Times:

Tragic Accident Results in End of an Era

ELIZABETH BENJAMIN, MARK McGUIRE, and JOE PICCHI Staff writer

A fiery head-on collision between a tractor-trailer and a sport-utility vehicle left five people dead and three injured Friday morning on Route 20.  The dead were registered nurses scheduled to perform in a comedy show Friday night at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon. The show — “Who’s Got the Keys?” — was supposed to run three nights. A representative of the theater said Friday afternoon that the show had been canceled.All the victims, three women and two men, were in a 1994 Ford Explorer. One woman was thrown from the vehicle onto the road. The others remained in the Explorer, which caught fire after the tractor-trailer rolled over it, police said. A third car, a 1987 Chevrolet sedan, also was involved in the 10:24 a.m. accident.  The Explorer was registered to one of the victims, a Columbia County resident. The others were from Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona, State Police Capt. John Byrne said.The names of the dead were being withheld pending notification of their families, Byrne said. They were pronounced dead at the scene by Columbia County Coroner Angelo Nero.State Police Sgt. G.E. McGreevy said the Explorer pulled out of Jefferson Hill Road onto Route 20 and into the path of an eastbound tractor-trailer laden with about 1,300 used tires. The vehicles collided head-on.  The crash also involved a third vehicle that was heading west on Route 20 toward Nassau, which police surmise might have collided with the tractor-trailer before it rammed into the Explorer.  The condition of the wreckage and the death toll made it difficult for State Police to immediately determine the accident’s cause, Byrne said.

Three people were pulled alive from the crash scene and taken to Albany Medical Center Hospital, one of them by helicopter. The accident closed Route 20, a two- to four-lane road that twists through Rensselaer County en route to Massachusetts.

Truck driver Byron Chacon, 30, of West Haven, Conn., is in fair condition, authorities said. He underwent surgery for injuries to his right arm and suffered multiple abrasions, according to hospital officials.  His co-worker, Jose Ardon, 38, also of West Haven, was in fair condition with a head injury, facial cuts and burns to his hands, officials said. He was taken to the hospital by helicopter.  Donna Brightman, 36, 921 Saratoga Ave., Ballston Spa, the driver of the third vehicle, was released from the hospital after being treated for a head cut and a knee injury.

Police said the tractor-trailer began its trip from the West Haven offices of Inter-East Tires, which collects used tires and brings them back to Connecticut. The truck had made several stops in Albany and Troy, and was en route to Pittsfield when the accident occurred. “I feel terrible,” said Inter-East Vice President Steve Briley. “This fellow (Chacon) has been an excellent employee. We’ve never had a problem.”

Brightman’s westbound sedan, which was damaged on the driver’s side, careered off the road into the woods about 100 yards from Jefferson Hill Road. Broken glass and parts of her car were strewn along the road, uphill from the crash site.

Byrne said it was too early to determine what happened, but police have developed a working theory: that the tractor-trailer was heading down a moderately steep hill on Route 20 while the Chevrolet was headed uphill toward the village of Nassau. The Ford Explorer was on Jefferson Hill Road, which is about in the middle of the hill. Police think the blue car might have hit the tractor-trailer first, causing the truck to plow into the Explorer as it pulled out of Jefferson Hill Road heading toward Nassau.

The Ford Explorer was reduced to a twisted, blackened hunk of metal. The vehicle appeared to be squashed, as though the tractor-trailer had driven directly over it — which Byrne called “one possible scenario.”

The impact of the trailer hitting the Explorer was so great that the vehicle’s license plate was found deep in the woods. The Explorer caught fire and was fully engulfed when the members of seven volunteer fire departments arrived.

The tractor-trailer plowed over the north side guardrail on Route 20 and flipped, scattering the used tires onto the road and into the woods. The trailer stretched halfway across Route 20, blocking the road.  Two hours after the accident, fire and police were still extracting the dead from the Explorer.  “You get pretty messed up when you see people burning and can’t do anything about it,” said Tsatsawassa Fire Chief Jay Kreutziger, who arrived at the scene moments after the crash and saw the Explorer engulfed in flames.

Kreutziger said a nearby resident, who was unidentified and could not be found, hurried to the road with a fire extinguisher in an unsuccessful effort to douse the flames.  Both truckers were able to get out of the vehicle on their own despite the fact that the truck’s cab was upside-down.  Traffic was diverted to side roads off Route 20, which remained closed as of 11 p.m. Friday but was expected to reopen by midnight.

At a news conference Friday night at Troop G headquarters in Loudonville, Byrne said he confirmed that several of the victims were nurses who were supposed to perform the night of the accident in a production called “Who’s Got the Keys?”  The show was part of a Nurses Week celebration, following a demonstration at the state Capitol by a grass-roots nurses organization called the Florence Project that publicizes problems related to health care.

Bright yellow fliers advertising the show were strewn about the accident scene at the intersection of Jefferson Hill Road and Route 20.  The fliers described “Who’s Got the Keys?” as a musical comedy put on by a cast of 20 singing and dancing health care professionals. The show was to be about an exhausted nurse who “discovers the real meaning of being a nurse” by battling an evil, four-headed HMO monster with help from a wacky cast of characters.

Katherine Smeland Pebler, the New York state coordinator of the Florence Project, said the five nurses who died in Friday’s accident had just rehearsed “Who’s Got the Keys?” at the Theater Barn and were heading to Albany to attend the rally at the Capitol steps.  A nurse who had been at the rehearsal but declined to join the group heading to the rally and instead went home to her 4-year-old son assisted the police in identifying the victims, Smeland Pebler said.

“Our profession has experienced a great loss,” said Smeland Pebler, reached by phone at her home Friday night. ”The fact that these RNs, who have been working so hard on this play to bring to light the demise of health care in our nation, died, is tragic. Further, it disturbs us with the Florence Project that they were on their way to our rally.” Oster contributed to this report.

First published on Saturday, May 2, 1998
Copyright 1998, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.

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Improv Your Customer Service

My youngest son, Adam, is a student at Second City, the school of improve in Chicago, the springboard for so many of the Saturday Night Live cast. Finally people who can appreciate what his high school teachers could not—his comedic genius! (How many trips to the principal’s office for entertaining his classmates?)

Recently I asked him how he was applying his lessons at Second City to other areas of his life (hoping that my tuition dollars were getting the most bang for the yuck, so to speak). I was pleasantly taken aback by the wisdom he has acquired. He works evenings waiting tables (as many starving artists do) at a local restaurant/jazz club: Andy’s Jazz Club. (For those of you living or visiting Chicago, definitely check this place out—great food and great music [and amazing waiters—at least on certain nights…]).

He explained that the two most important rules of Improv are 1) Never say no. Whatever the situation, say yes—take whatever situation you’re given (especially the unexpected) and go from there—run with it.

2) Make the rest of the ensemble look good. It’s not about yourself—it’s about the others on your team.

So… how does that apply to waiting tables??? Adam explained to me that every seat, every patron is a “scene” and whatever request is made, the answer is always yes. (Oh, that all the waiters and waitresses in my past could have said “yes,” rather than—“we can’t substitute,” “it’s not our policy,” “you’re not my table” and other statements sure to ruin one’s appetite!)

Secondly, being a very funny guy, his tendency in the past was to entertain those at his tables—not a bad thing. But what he’s realized is that there’s always at least one person in every group that enjoys being funny, too. Thus rule #2: Make the other person look good. Adam loves being funny, but now his goal is to make someone at his table appear funnier than him. “When I’m funny, I get good tips. But when I make the other guy look even funnier, I get great tips.”

Wow! The answer to almost all customer service challenges wrapped up in the first two rules of Improv!

Say yes to the customer’s request and run with it—make it work using creativity, imagination, humor and whatever it takes.

It’s about the other people, not us. Making our customers, patients, coworkers, bosses, spouses, family members, friends, classmates—whomever!—look good. As my mom always said, “what goes around comes around.”

Way to go, Adam. Go to the head of the class.

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When Humor is Part of The Corporate Culture

I had the chance to sit around the table with the most fun bunch of people recently. They weren’t humorists or comediennes—but they were funny as all get out—kind of like Seinfeld meets healthcare. And they love their work.

Moe Green, founder of Classic Care Pharmacy started his business 10 years ago with a handful of people. Today he has over 120 employees and services 125 long term care facilities. The corporate culture is fun, and his staff and his customers are raving fans.

While having lunch with two of the team (Judy and Girish) they told me they hate to miss even a day of work. “There’s something going on everyday, and most of the time it’s fun!” they said. Apparently the rest of the staff agrees with them. The camaraderie and team spirit is palpable when you walk in the office.

As far as retention goes, people who come on board tend to stay on board. “We don’t brag too loudly to others about how good we have it here,” teased a couple of gals following my after-dinner entertainment. “We don’t want a bunch of other people vying for our jobs!”

From chatting with Moe, two keys to Classic Care’s success became obvious. First, he’s a firm believer in empowering his people. “When issues come up, I let them make decisions. There’s rarely an issue that is life or death.” Engaging his employees in company matters helps them to feel ownership. Once a month he holds a “State of The Union” address where he collects all 125 people and gives them updates on what’s going on and gets their feedback. And all of the executive team have an open door policy.

Second, fun is part of the corporate culture and it begins with the interview process. Moe is looking to hire for attitude and if the interviewee isn’t comfortable with the joking and teasing that goes on with the interview committee, then it’s made clear that this is part of the culture. If he or she feels uncomfortable, then perhaps they would be better off working elsewhere—the company isn’t going to change its culture just because someone doesn’t want to play along. Throughout the year, employees spend time together at potlucks, bar-b-ques, sports and just hanging out. They are an extended family.

The weekly executive meetings usually include gales of laughter. “Sometimes staff will come over and close our door because we’re laughing so loud,” Moe admitted.

What’s the result of all this? It comes as no surprise that Classic Care Pharmacy Ottawa was just named one of The Top 10 Employers in the National Capital Region (based on engagement, leadership and over-all employee satisfaction). This award was not just for healthcare but for businesses across the province. And Classic Care continues to grow at an astounding rate: 30% in the last 10 months!

When humor is part of the corporate culture, businesses can enjoy tremendous financial success—but that’s not all. George Burns once said, “Do something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” It seems that Classic Care employees will never have to “work” again—and with clients as fun as Classic Care, neither will I!

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