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These articles by Melinda Sherwood were published in U.S. 1
Newspaper on December 8, 1999. All rights reserved.
A Laugh a Day, Keeps . . .
Stephen Klein keeps a koosh ball on his desk,
a smiley coffee mug close by, and in the afternoon, he faxes his
funny cartoons. You might call him a CPA, or "comic" public
accountant. His motto: always mix business with pleasure.
"We need to take our work seriously, and take ourselves
says Klein, who teaches the Princeton Chamber how to "Jest for
Success" on Wednesday, December 15, at 7:15 a.m. "Once you
give yourself permission to do that, it changes your state of
says Klein, a partner at Klatzkin & Company LLP at 1670
Square Road. Call 609-520-1776. Cost: $21.
Klein was born in Indianapolis, where his father was also a CPA. He
graduated from Indiana State University, with a BS in accounting,
Class of 1963, and naturally, he took his profession and himself very
seriously. Then, in 1990, he suffered a decline in health that caused
him to shake off the old attitude. That’s when he attended the Humor
Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York, where he was one of 1,200
people in an auditorium that was coaxed into singing silly songs like
"I am a Pizza." At first, he says, the serious businesspeople
in the crowd were hesitant to join in the shenanigans, but then
started laughing, and before you know it everybody started
"We get so serious about our work and you get so focused on the
minutia," says Klein, "that you don’t get to use your right
brain, the creative side, and sometimes that seriousness carries over
to your personal life and it shouldn’t. I was looking for more fun
in my life."
A child laughs 400 times a day; adults laugh sometimes fewer than
15 times a day, says Klein. Why should we care? "They’ve proven
through research that laughter has a positive effect on your immune
system — endorphins are released in the brain, which is the body’s
natural pain killer."
There’s a place for laughter and levity even in the most serious
says Klein. Take aviation for instance. "Southwest Airlines,
over 25 years, is the only airline that can boast that it looks for
a sense of humor in the employees that they hire," says Klein.
"The stewardesses crack jokes and do things in a funny way."
Humor relaxes your customers and clients, but it can also be an
way of communicating important messages, says Klein. "Business
managers or others spend 94 percent of their time communicating,"
says Klein, "and if you can add humor in that communication in
some form it’s shown that the messages are remembered longer and
building a rapport with the person."
Ways to jest successfully:
keeping toys close at hand, or joke books lying around.
take a humor break and read funny books," says Klein. "I fax
cartoons to clients, or post them on bulletin boards.
top management has to make it OK," says Klein. "They have
to learn to make fun of themselves."
relaxed at work, says Klein, and "if you’re in a more relaxed
state, you can think things through clearly."
says Klein. "I don’t think anybody should ever make a joke about
someone else — about religion, or nationality, or sex. There’s
enough funny things that you can do and people can have a good
Klein, is a trait in each of us. "I think everybody has a sense
of humor but it’s buried," says Klein. "Just because you’re
an adult doesn’t mean you can’t still be playful."
When it was still known as "going postal," those
of working for private companies could shrug it off. Now it’s
at corporations like Xerox and in brokerage houses: an employee’s
angst progresses to the point of deadly violence. On everybody’s mind:
couldn’t anybody see this coming?
In most cases, we do see it coming, says Naomi Vilko, a
who specializes in treating corporate executives with problems ranging
from substance abuse to depression, but "mostly people ignore
it. The two big problems with mental health are denial and the stigma.
The more knowledge you have, the better."
Vilko of Vilko Corporate Consulting and Nupur Lahiri of the
Life Enhancement Institute are two psychiatrists in the area focusing
on mental-illness, corporate-style: burn-out, depression, anxiety,
and on occasion, violence. At the Life Enhancement Institute at 10
Jefferson Plaza (609-924-0912), Lahiri focuses on patients’ overall
well-being using a variety of approaches including yoga, massage,
nutrition, counseling, and old-fashioned psychiatry — all offered
under one roof.
Although Vilko sees many of her patients in her office at 419 North
Harrison Street (609-924-3225, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org), she
also prefers to go inside the belly of the beast — Vilko works
with management teams at places like Merrill Lynch and Bristol-Myers
Squibb on company turf, helping them integrate key employees, improve
the corporate culture, and enhance communication. "It’s kind of
like detective work, figuring out which part of your job is stressful,
and then trying to do something about it," she says. "A lot
of these type A personalities have never learned how to relax and
have fun — they’ve only learned how to get ahead."
In practice since 1985, Vilko graduated from medical school at the
tender age of 23. Since her parents were both immigrants who endured
the Holocaust (her mother was in Auschwitz), Vilko knew she wanted
to have a career that was "transportable," should she ever
had to leave the country. She grew up in Manhattan, where her parents,
both Hungarian immigrants from Prague, ran a gourmet grocery store.
When her father died, it was clear to Vilko she would be paying her
own way through school. She decided to do it quickly.
She graduated in three years from Columbia, Class of 1972, and went
to New York Medical College. She became a professor of psychiatry
at Mt. Sinai Medical School and then Robert Wood Johnson (formerly
Rutgers). She was director of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Unit
at Princeton Hospital in 1985, during an era of massive corporate
consolidation and lay-offs. It was then that she launched her
consulting career, especially working with companies undergoing
"When a company merges there’s a clash of cultures, people are
fired and hired," she explains. "It’s an unstable
Today most of Vilko’s patients suffer from burn out, sleeplessness,
and addictions to alcohol or substances. The typical executive
40-something with children, nice, intelligent, socially skilled. Only
one problem: they’re not enjoying anything, says Vilko. "They
work too many hours during the week, and then hibernate on the
she says. "The people who work in New York leave the house at
6:30 a.m. and get home at 7:30 p.m. I tell them that no one can do
that indefinitely. You could have a heart attack."
That doesn’t make them gun-toting employees necessarily, but not every
bad seed is easy to spot. "There are stages of violence —
the person doesn’t come right in with a gun," she says. For those
who start expressing their angst, the signs might be subtle at first.
"First you say something to them and they jump at you, or even
curse, and they become more argumentative. They seem very irritable
and say bad things about the company."
Some examples of behavior that indicates an employee needs treatment,
it could be too late, says Vilko. "Once someone is identified
with alcoholism or depression you can’t fire them — they’re
and you have to treat them," she says.
The key is to nip it in the "id," says Vilko. "If someone
has cancer, early detection is obviously the way to go" she says.
"The hope of managed care has been preventative medicine but it’s
very difficult to see a psychiatrist. I noticed that I was getting
patients at a much later date in their illness. My hope is that some
people will begin to send themselves, but they could be sent by the
employer. The companies often have invested a lot of money in people
they’re good at what they do. The company wants to keep its
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