Do You Have a Funny Bone?

How ”Amusement & Hedonism” and 9 Other Intrinsic Motivators Impact Leadership & Culture

Do you remember the game of “Operation”?  The game buzzed and the patient’s nose lit up in red alert if your surgical procedure went off track using tweezers. As a child, one thing that I always found most appealing about the game was the “funny bone”.    Naturally, I assumed everyone had a funny bone.  I was certain that everyone had a sense of humor and loved to laugh.   I was wrong.

One of the most intriguing instruments we use in our consulting practice today is the CDR Drivers & Rewards Assessment that identifies 10 facets of intrinsic motivation or deeply imbedded life interests. One’s need, or appreciation, for Amusement & Hedonism is one of these facets measured on a scale of 0% to 100%. Amusement & Hedonism measures one’s needs for fun, personal indulgence, a zest for good times, and an overall philosophy of enjoying life to the fullest. People with high scores seek a fun work environment, are usually light hearted or even jolly, may relish entertaining, maximize their vacation time, tend to be less formal, and enjoy other fun-loving types.”

People with low scores prefer a serious work environment. Their sober approach can be effective when the tasks at hand are extremely precise or engrossing or when there is no room for interruption of thought or progress. Surgeons, auditors, inspectors, and judges are examples of those who benefit from having a serious, poker face determination. Frequently, rule enforcers and stewards of standards benefit from the straight-faced or solemn demeanor.

From a leadership and work culture perspective, the gap between having a high or low Amusement & Hedonism score matters greatly.

For example, in the financial and banking sector, successful leaders and professionals alike tend to have very low Amusement & Hedonism scores on average. Their organizations tend to be more formal, button down, no nonsense and quite serious about the business at hand. In fact, they can be quite task focused so that if you worked there and told a funny joke or story, this would not be a welcomed intrusion into the workspace. Occasionally, you may encounter individuals with a dry, Bob Newhart sense of humor, but you would be hard pressed to find a fun loving jokester on display.

We had a corporate banking client in NYC who decided to go to casual business dress code rather than keeping the full dark suit attire. This new dress code policy only lasted one week! It made everyone too uncomfortable because it didn’t connect with the low Amusement & Hedonism scores or their need for a formal work atmosphere. Additionally, going casual was out of kilter with their client’s expectations of a “banker.”

I once worked with a Director of Training & Development of a mid-west energy company, Ed, who had a very low score and his company, too, went to casual business dress. I noticed during a visit that the men were wearing golf shirts and khaki slacks. Ed was not going with the flow. He was wearing a long sleeved, stiffly starched plaid shirt, buttoned to the top, and it was over 90 degrees outside. I asked him where his golf shirt was and he replied sternly, “Nancy it took me three weeks just to take my tie off!” He really was not comfortable with the change.

Another VP of Leadership Development at a major medical device corporate headquarters in New Jersey scolded one of our senior consultants, Kim, who was onsite for laughing and talking with a couple employees in a fun spirited way by the water cooler near her office. This VP chastised, “You know, we have work around here that needs to get done.” Kim poked her head in the VP’s office and said “And what was your Amusement & Hedonism score?” Her score was under 5%. Kim reminded her that spirited discussions in the workplace frequently enhance productivity for many employees.

So culturally, the Drivers & Reward needs of the employees and leaders become the living values and social environment and are the welcomed code of behaviors.

Clearly, Southwest Airlines has had a bias in hiring flight attendants and service personnel who have an abundance of Amusement & Hedonism. From the beginning, Herb Kelleher fostered humor, fun, respect, and love of service in the workplace. He was a known jokester and was very down to earth.

The spirit of Southwest Airlines is exuberant, it’s caring, it’s dedicated, it’s diligent, it’s fun, it’s rewarding, it’s a joy.

Herb Kelleher

Individuals and leaders who have high Amusement & Hedonism have well developed sense of humor, and have a more casual way about them. They are able to “let their hair down” and be quite comfortable with others, which can help with stress reduction. That is – unless the customer or employee has a low score in Amusement & Hedonism. They can become uncomfortable or even agitated with the frivolity and the silly banter. In fact, if you ask people who don’t care for Southwest, there are usually two reasons: 1) they don’t like unassigned seats; and 2) they don’t like the lack of seriousness. Years ago, a frequent traveler who constantly wrote letters complaining about the sporty uniforms of the flight attendants and about the casual atmosphere, wrote a final gripe letter that was bumped up to Kelleher for a response and

“In sixty seconds, Kelleher wrote back and said, ‘Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb.’

When an organization or department hires an individual whose drivers are opposite of the group’s averaged scores, that individual often feels like an outcast or soon is likely to become unhappy or uncomfortable.

In fact, as an executive coach and instructor of leadership workshops, with a high amusement and hedonism score, I have to be very cognizant and in tune with the client’s capacity to “enjoy” and have fun. On some occasions, I have had to rein it in so to speak and not indulge my normal approach and tone down the humor or fun activities. On the other hand, I’ve also had the other extreme — the beer brewing company sales team who was breaking out cold ones before noon at an offsite team session at a lake resort. Needless to say, we were out enjoying our group fishing tournament by 2:00 pm on day one! Most groups have at least a pulse on the Amusement & Hedonism motivational facet. To make sure we best accommodate all styles, I frequently co-instruct with a colleague who has a very low score on the fun factor and this opposite mix of styles seems to appeal to all.

More difficult for me is working closely with people on a one-to-one basis who are so serious they lack the capacity to laugh and just want to stay on task relentlessly. Their seriousness can be tough for me to take. Low scorers may rarely smile and their laughter can appear like a forced rather stiff semi-smile. Low Amusement & Hedonism types are often perceived as being cool and aloof or just too prim and proper. Yet, they may be warm and caring (Interpersonal Sensitivity) but their non-playfulness and serious demeanor causes them to disguise their kind nature.

If you have ever told a tale you thought was pretty funny and received an odd look with a part smile or no laughter, you can be pretty sure this person was low on Amusement & Hedonism. (That is unless your humor was really bad…) Individuals with high scores will appear more loose and relaxed, will often use humor to express and may even welcome the occasional belly laugh. When placed in a button down, low Amusement & Hedonism environment, their energy depletes and they will become uncomfortable which can dampen performance.

Drivers are strong. They fuel behaviors and performance. In fact, when one’s Drivers are mismatched or are not respected by the manager and culture, this often results in employee retention issues.  So, while the person may be a good job fit by way of experience and personality, if they are not happy because their Drivers are not being rewarded or endorsed, unhappiness and uninspired performance may set in. Further, if their Drivers do not match the culturally dominant Drivers, they are likely to feel as though they don’t fit in. Ultimately, they may leave the company.

Clearly, the high Amusement & Hedonism scoring person needs to “have fun” to perform best. The good news for the company is that to endorse this motivational facet is low to no cost and the performance returns can be tremendous.  Here are some tactics and cautions that managers can use to reinforce and reward employees who have a high need for “Amusement & Hedonism”:

  • Allow this individual to express and to make the workplace fun, reasonably pleasurable and “light”.
  • Give the high scorer freedom to pick-up fun tasks; i.e., setting up company or customer social events— 
such as picnics, trips, parties, designing the new vacation policy, etc.
  • Find out what activities this individual enjoys outside of work and provide incentives and rewards for 
achievements such as: dinner at preferred restaurant, tickets to events s/he would enjoy, extra time off 
to go “play”, and vacation awards.
  • Utilize this person’s tendency or capacity for enjoyment to be a positive source of energy for the team, 
especially when times are tough. Use their jovial nature or free-spirited outlook to help moderate stressful situations.

Management Tactics Cautions:

  • There can be difficulty having this person get serious frequently. Reward them in ways that satisfy their need to enjoy as they persevere through essential—and perhaps tedious—work tasks
  • Be careful this person doesn’t over-party or play on company time or events to the point of foolishness or compromising behaviors.
  • If the job focus or environment is extremely serious and subdued, this individual will feel stifled and not be satisfied. Career coaching to help them move to a more conducive position and environment, if available, may be helpful to retain the employee over time.

For those with low scores on Amusement & Hedonism, they will perform best in a reserved, serious business environment. To explore the best way to satisfy their specific motivational needs, determine what their highest scores, or their primary Drivers, are on their assessment results and honor those things (i.e., perhaps Business & Finance, Scientific Reasoning, Power & Competition, etc.)

In the HBR article “Job Sculpting, the Art of Retaining Your Best People” by Timothy Butler and James Waldroop, they wrote,

“Deeply embedded life interests do not determine what people are good at—they drive what kinds of activities make them happy. At work,                                                                                                                          that happiness often translates into commitment. It keeps people engaged, and it keeps them from quitting.[1]

The nine other intrinsic Drivers and Reward facets measured, or deeply imbedded life interests, include enjoying and finding great satisfaction with:

  • Business + Finance – money, compensation or investments, economic issues
  • Artistic Endeavors – creative expression or interests
  • Companionship + Affiliation – close friendships in and outside of work
  • Fame + Feedback – need for recognition, feedback, praise, and visibility
  • Humanitarian Efforts – desire for “hands on helping” to directly help the less fortunate
  • Power + Competition – status seeking, competitive, seeking upward mobility
  • Moral Platform – life evolves around unwavering values and beliefs
  • Scientific Reasoning – fascination with technology, scientific analysis and discovery
  • Safety + Security – need for long term financial, employment and personal security

Most people have more than one Driver from the list above that stimulates their passion, interest and performance. Bottom line, learning what specifically motivates you and your employees will help you to keep a happy, satisfied, energized, highly productive and loyal team.   And remember, not everyone has a funny bone!



Source: CDR Assessment Group. (Copyrighted 1999). CDR Drivers & Rewards Assessment Report. Tulsa, OK: Author.

©2015 CDR Assessment Group, Inc., Tulsa, OK 74119, All rights reserved.                Twitter: @CDR_Assessment    Blog:'

Author: Nancy Parsons

Nancy Parsons is President and Co-founder of CDR Assessment Group, Inc. (CDR) and providing break-through assessments, consulting and training services for global clients to since 1998 to enhance leader development and talent management initiatives. Nancy provides coaching services for C-Suite executives and key leaders from global organizations across all sectors. She facilitates strategic executive team development and custom authentic leadership workshops for clients. Nancy also devotes significant time to coaching/mentoring, training and certifying executive coaches. She is a member of The Alexcel Group and CoachSource.

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