Why workplace humour is the secret to great leadership
Engagement 5 minute read

Why workplace humour is the secret to great leadership

Rise | October 23, 2018

Workplace humour not only creates a more fun workplace, but it also may make more productive, engaged, and happier employees. Find out why.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To pursue new career opportunities!

Okay, that joke wasn’t very funny. Workplace humour is a hard thing to get right. However, research shows that laughter in the office is a seriously great thing for many reasons.

According to a Robert Half survey, 91% of executives believe a sense of humour is important for career advancement and 84% feel that people with a good sense of humour do a better job. Still, a Gallup study shows that we laugh significantly less on weekdays than we do on weekends.

It’s time we tried to bring workplace humour back into our work lives. A little light-hearted laughter will benefit everyone on your team by making the office more fun and ultimately bringing up your bottom line. Here’s how to cultivate a culture of humour in your workplace.

They say that laughter is the best medicine. Turns out, whoever ‘they’ are, they aren’t far from the truth.

“Humour appears to buffer an individual against the negative effects of stress,” says Millicent H. Abel in a study on humour, stress, and coping strategies. “Furthermore, research reveals that a good sense of humour is related to muscle relaxation, control of pain and discomfort, positive mood states, and overall psychological health.”

More than being an effective mechanism for coping with stress, laughter actually has measurable physiological effects that strengthen our immune systems. While stress can make us sick, laughter has been shown to increase our production of beta-endorphins, which help prevent illness.

On top of these benefits, laughter also burns calories. According to one study, laughing 100 times burns roughly as many calories as 10 minutes on a stationary bicycle. The study also found that the average adult laughs 300 to 500 times per day.

Humour can actually increase productivity and create overall happier employees. 

It’s no secret that healthy employees tend to be more productive and engaged, and we’ve just learned that laughter really does make great medicine. But did you know that laughter can also make us better at our jobs? In addition to reducing stress, having a chuckle in the office makes us more motivated and engaged.

According to a report from St. Edward's University, “An Australian industry-wide study of 2,500 employees found that 81% believe a fun working environment would make them more productive; 93% said that laughing on the job helps to reduce work-related stress. A further 55% said they would take less pay to have more fun at work.’”

Comedy is good for the bottom line, with employees who laugh more often also showing up more often. 

Not only do employees who laugh at work tend to be healthier and more productive, but they are also absent from work less often. This reduction in absenteeism helps reduce costs to your business and increase business profits.

In the Journal of Applied Communication Research, researcher Owen Hanley Lynch, states: “Organizational humor has been linked with successful leadership, with increases in profit and work compliance, with a successful business culture, with message and goal clarity in managerial presentations, with improvement in group problem-solving, and with reducing emotional stress due to threats and role conflict at work.”

Further, humour has been shown to increase our ability to make decisions, think creatively, and solve complex problems—all of which can make for more productive, innovative, and profitable organizations.

“Good comedy is a conspiracy. Create an in-group,” says The Humour Code, a book about what makes funny things funny. Being “in” on the inside jokes can make team members feel like they’re part of the group.

In Lynch's research, he found that humour “draws people together based on their shared understandings and provides ingroups with a common form of expression.” That is, we communicate our shared experiences through jokes: “Humour begets bonding; in return, bonding begets more ingroup humour.”

For those of you looking for a great team-building activity, try heading to a comedy club or enrolling your team in an improv workshop.

People want to work for leaders with a sense of humour because it makes work more fun, but employees also feel that funny leaders appear more competent. 

A study by the Bell Leadership Institute found that a sense of humour was one of the two most desirable traits in leaders, the other being a strong work ethic. “People who use humour, particularly in stressful or seemingly one-down positions are viewed as being on top of things, being in charge and in control, whether they are in fact or not,” writes Martha Craumer in Harvard Business Review.

Humour in the workplace can be risky. Research from Gang Zhang, a doctoral candidate at London Business School, found that “although employees admire and feel more motivated by leaders who use humour effectively, they have less respect for those who try to be funny and fail or who make fun of themselves.” So leaders, remember to think about your audience first before cracking your jokes.

Here are 5 tips for good workplace humour, courtesy of Harvard Business Review:

  • It’s not whether or not you’re funny, it’s what kind of funny you are. Be honest and authentic.
  • If you can’t be “ha-ha” funny, at least be “aha!” funny. Cleverness can be good enough.
  • Good comedy is a conspiracy. Create an in-group.
  • Don’t be afraid to chuckle at yourself. It signals everything is okay.
  • Laughter is disarming. Poke fun at the stuff everyone’s worried about.

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