Bring humor into the workplace. But the right kind.

A study by Stanford University says ‘working adults are in the midst of a laughter drought.’ People over 35 laugh only 15 times a day as compared to the 400 of babies! Gallup even went so far as to understand when people like to express their humor freely. They found that we laugh significantly less on weekdays, compared to weekends. Looks like the workplace dries up our sense of humor.

However, in what might seem like a contradiction, a survey by Hodge-Cronin & Associates found that of 737 CEOs, 98% preferred job candidates with a sense of humor. Yes, chuckling can have its merits. Here’s a strong case for making laughter a part of our professional environment – a look at the three major effects of humor in the workplace.

  • Promotes creative thinking. When we laugh, we relax. This especially helps when we face deadlines, or run out of ideas. Watching something funny or joking about feeling stuck, helps us create distance from the problem and reduces the stress we experience with having to solve it. Relaxation makes us less likely to criticize our mistakes, and we become more receptive to diverse ideas. That is why Hulu hosts Airzooka contests, and Southwest Airlines flight attendants turn into stand-up comedians while safety briefing!
  • Enhances performance. In a study by the American Psychological Association, participants were given a box of board-pins, matches, and a candle. Their task was to fix the candle to the wall such that when lit, it wouldn’t drip on the floor. Prior to the task, the participants watched clips on different topics to induce either a neutral mindset (math), a negative mindset (the Holocaust), or a positive mindset (TV bloopers). It was found that those who had seen the funny clip, solved the problem faster than the others – used the pins as a base for the candle. 84% CEOs from the Hodge-Cronin survey validate that happy workers are productive workers.
  • Establishes leadership. Good natured jokes, or making light of a tense situation by leaders helps create a common ground for people. Research indicates that leaders are rated as less stressful, more supportive of participation, and more open to communication when they are able to laugh at themselves. They are perceived to be ‘real’; employees admire and feel more motivated by them. But employees have less respect for leaders who try to be funny and fail.

All said and done, humor is also a double-edged sword. There is a time and place for it. As healthy as it is, humor can also deeply offend people. Especially if the jokes are sexist or racist, and put people down. According to the authors of The Humor Code, it isn’t about whether you are funny or not, it’s what kind of funny you are that matters. The downside of humor causes hostility. If you have a doubt about a joke, heed to it, and let go. But if it makes the cut, share it and spread the laughter. Create a happy, healthy workplace.

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