Why we need laughter at work

Why do many people get so serious at work? I remember getting into trouble at school for laughing – for teachers in my day it was a sign that someone had lost their focus or worse had committed the taboo of causing others to laugh.

This carried through to the workplace, where everyone was most likely to put on a serious persona. Not anymore! It is slowly being eroded and with good reason!

1. Leaders use laughter to create a fun culture

Great leaders know that humour is an excellent way to connect with people. If you want to communicate and build trust, humour is an excellent tool for breaking down the barriers that are assumed between people of different rank in an organisation. The skill is the ability to walk into a room, particularly one that has an element of tension within it, and present a humorous anecdote or quip to change the mood.

A good sense of humour shows that you have a clear understanding of what others are expecting. It is amazing how people warm to those that show understanding, whether it is explicit (e.g. I appreciate how you feel…) or implicit (an ice-breaking joke that makes everyone relax).

Taking that level of seriousness out of the air is a great tool for then delivering a message that you want people to absorb. Humour can really send a sense of confidence throughout the organization, and it should be encouraged.

2. Laughter is healthy for you – and it’s contagious

Have a good laugh, the kind that makes your stomach hurt and your cheeks ache, floods your body with a range of endorphins that boost your mood and your health. In the current climate of rising stress level and competing timetables, a good laugh can really ward off the demons that come with being at high level intensity for extended periods of time.

The contagious nature of humour is similar (but not as powerful) as that of yawning. If there are two people laughing hysterically you will see people getting out of their chairs to come and find out what the big joke is. People want to be laughing and enjoying themselves, and hearing laughter in the distance can bring a smile to our face even when we have no idea what’s caused it all.

Laughter is known to reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure and boost your immune system. Exactly what we need at work!

3. Laughter goes hand in hand with innovation

The most essential ingredient to innovation is idea sharing. Without ideas you don’t have innovation, and if you have staff that are up to their eyeballs in stress, who are too scared to throw an idea up then you don’t have any ideas coming through. A culture that is fun and embraces laughter breaks down so many barriers that it also removes the block that prevents contribution.

Laughter creates that relaxed state in which people are not only more confident to share ideas but also more receptive to hearing them. Innovation is less likely when people are angry or stressed – these people tend to feel irritated by new ideas because it has the potential of providing a distraction, or worse still a change in circumstances that they are already struggling to cope with.

4. Laughter is optimal for learning

Laughter makes the mind more open to new ideas, so it optimises learning. Psychologists and neurologists have known for years that anything that has an emotional component is more likely to be remembered than a pure list of facts without context.

This is why we learn better when we find material exciting – the emotional element (excitement) really enhances the shift of new material from short-term memory into long-term memory.

Interweaving humour with learning material works on two levels – firstly it breaks the learner out of learning malaise (which is that feeling you get after hearing someone boring speak for more than two minutes) by providing something unexpected, but it also increases the uptake of the information that accompanies it due to the neurological benefits of experiencing an emotion at the same time.

Error-based examples make us laugh

Nobody wants to be the person at work that makes the mistake that everyone else learns from – but if we hear a tale of how someone else managed to embarrass themselves with a calamitous mistake we all have a chuckle and take the moral lesson on board.

Someone running a “HUGE T-SHIRT PROMOTION” accidentally sent out a flyer without the letter R in the word SHIRT. Luckily, he had a good sense of humour the customers took great joy in calling him up throughout the week and having a few laughs at his expense. Needless to say that proofreading headings became an essential part of the workflow, not only for him but for anyone else who was part of the promotion.

Anything that enhances self-awareness is a great tool for improving the performance of the team. Unfortunately, most do this through the use of fear, which limits mistakes but also robs people of confidence and self-directed action.

The good news is that we are allowed to laugh at work. It isn’t (always) a sign of slacking off, but it is actually healthy and beneficial for everyone in the office. Jokes, laughter and excitement should be encouraged, provided they are respectful of diversity and not taunting.

It is an honour for me to be working with a brilliant troupe of comedy ‘business’ actors in the USA – and to create some great videos to facilitate laughing and learning in workplaces across the world!

Eve Ash has produced 100 new comedy videos in the CUTTING EDGE COMMUNICATION SERIES and a wide variety of ‘straight’ videos at www.7d-tv.com.

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