Laugh more, produce more

Humour management programmes recommend you do things like use a banana to point at slides during presentations to introduce fun into the workplace. Right.

IS it me or are people generally looking more miserable every day? Glance at the motorists around you the next time you’re inching your way to work. Observe the profusion of down-turned mouths and the wretched fields of furrowed brows. Take a quick look around the office. Survey the despondently sagging shoulders that proliferate and take in the frequent leaden sighs that pervade the airwaves.

How did life get so serious and gloomy? It’s as the Aerosmith song suggests, “There’s something wrong with the world today, the light bulb’s getting dim”. And the question begs; what impact is this cheerlessness having on productivity and creativity in the workplace.

It’s time, I believe, we took action, which is why I was pleased to read about major research conducted into the effect of humour in the workplace.

The study, carried out by the US University of Missouri-Columbia, found that humour has a significant impact in organisations. In a nutshell, it discovered the more the laughter, the greater and the better the output.

“Humour isn’t incompatible with goals of the workplace,” said chief researcher, Chris Robert. “It’s not incompatible with the organisation’s desire to be competitive. In fact, we argue that humour is pretty important. It’s not just clowning around and having fun; it has meaningful impact on cohesiveness in the workplace and communication quality among workers. The ability to appreciate humour, the ability to laugh and make other people laugh actually has physiological effects on the body that cause people to become more bonded.”

The study also focussed on how humour works and its cognitive effects, which the researchers said influence creativity. In addition, it looked at the stimulus of humour on positive emotions, and the link between positive emotions and improved performance in organisations.

On a physical level, laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones and increases muscle flexion. It also triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being. The research showed that people who are light-hearted, have fun at work and are in good spirits are more likely to be successful. Their positive feelings produce a positive recipe for the brain for increased oxygen, endorphins and blood flow, which enables them to think more clearly and creatively.

So, now we know without a doubt that humour is good for business. Laughter and fun at work can help make us more innovative and industrious, and better team players. Indeed, a humour strategy surely warrants inclusion in any effective workplace wellness programme. It may even be appropriate to appoint a humour management executive (otherwise known as the office clown) to take charge of funny affairs at your company.

What is not clear though, is exactly what steps your witty new department should take to up the levels of laughter in the office. A little online research into workplace humour management programmes revealed the following ideas for implementing fun at work:

• Put decaffeinated coffee in the coffee maker for three weeks. Once everyone has got over his or her caffeine addiction, switch to espresso.
• Use a large banana to point at your presentation slides.
• See how loudly you can get people to talk on the phone by saying that you can only just hear them.
• During a meeting, gradually push yourself closer and closer to the door on your chair.
• Get hold of as many pairs of boots or shoes and as many pairs of trousers as you can. Arrange the boots and trousers in the toilet cubicles so that it looks as though all the cubicles are occupied. Leave them there and watch the queue grow.

Indeed, we live in desperate times.

(This article was first published in Business Day’s Management Review supplement.)

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About Administrator

Freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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