Humor in the workplace is not a lightweight topic during a tight employment market. With the unemployment rate at a low point of about 3.6% nationally last month, employers need to examine their corporate culture to attract top talent. Factors like a “high fun-quotient” carry serious weight in winning over recruits. Humor in the workplace can also improve employee wellbeing, foster team-building, and increase productivity while reducing healthcare costs.
Why So Serious?
Babies laugh 400 times a day. The average person over age 35 laughs an average of 15 times on each weekday, according to Gallup. Something tragic has happened on our way to the work world: we’ve lost our sense of humor. While humor might be tragedy plus time (according to Mark Twain), this tragedy is no laughing matter. Fostering the use of humor in the workplace may feel like walking a tightrope in
terms of good taste, but the payoff is substantial.
In one study, “Happiness and Productivity: Understanding the Happy-Productive Worker,” Daniel Sgroi reported that happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees. When it comes to salespeople, happiness can raise sales by as much as 37%. A happy and engaged workforce is the single greatest advantage in the modern economy.
Humor Improves Health & Reduces Stress
Humor can also reduce employee healthcare costs. The physiological response to humor and laughter enhances the intake of oxygen, stimulates the heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by the brain. Laughter fires up and then cools down the stress response, decreasing heart rate and blood pressure while inducing a relaxed feeling.
Even the anticipation of having a good chuckle increases levels of beta-endorphins, which make us feel good, and also of the human growth hormone, which helps keep our immune system functioning.
Humor also helps us keep things in perspective. Research has shown that people with higher “humor scores” tend to perceive potentially stressful events as more of a challenge, whereas those with lower humor saw them more as a threat. (Kuiper, Martin, & Olinger, 1993).
Fun Builds Future Leaders
A Robert Half International survey found that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement while 84% feel that people with a good sense of humor do a better job. Another study by Bell Leadership Institute found that the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor. So when you’re courting talent that you want to consider for leadership roles, remember that candidates with high “humor scores” are also looking for the right fit in terms of work culture.
Corporate Cultures That Embrace Humor Increase Performance
Humor can trigger new brain connections by stimulating the right hemisphere of the brain, which fuels creative thinking. In a research experiment detailed in “Positive Affect Facilitates Creative Problem Solving,” Alice M. Isen found that simply watching comedy films improves creative problem solving skills.
An Australian study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology found that when experiment subjects were given a boring job to do, then exposed to something funny, they worked twice as long as subjects who watched videos about nature or business management.
In yet another study from the Journal of Applied Psychology just one use of humor among work teams resulted in improved performance not just immediately, but up to two years later.
How to Fun-ify Your Corporate Culture
Employees and prospective candidates take their cues from leaders, so leading with a benevolent sense of humor goes a long way toward building the culture. Employees also need to feel relaxed in order to engage in humor. Here are a few ways to infuse play into the workplace from Google, Zappos and others leading the way.
- Establish a Good Times Committee to plan happy hours, holiday parties and life celebrations.
- Consider offering relaxing perks such as onsite free lunches, complimentary fitness programs, generous vacation policies, etc.
- Make room for play – literally or figuratively. Whether you outfit a games room or simply encourage short, fun breaks, something as simple as a 15 minute game of pool can help to form bonds between co-workers and gives people time to chat, smile and approach their work with a new perspective.
Are you looking for a Candidate with a strong sense of humor? Talk to Phoenix Partners.