Laughter at work

Some workplaces I walk into are very busy, very quiet, and very serious. Often, the stress of their work has caused them to focus solely on their work and withdraw from others.

Other workplaces I know are also very busy, but there is also a lot of lightness and laughter.

You can guess which workplace most people prefer.

I think the importance of laughter at work is often overlooked. It’s a great destressor, of course, particularly when dealing with the crazy scenarios we are required to deal with – ridiculous workloads, poorly-led change, not to mention the weird things that people do.

This is probably why teachers, nurses, paramedics and police are often laughing at the bizarre situations they deal with, at times. Much of the humour is back-of-house, of course, out of the ear-shot of clients and the public who may not appreciate the funny side.

Yes, some of the humour can be gallows humour. But, apart from releasing stress, this type of humour can also provide valuable insights into how team members are feeling and the challenges for which they need support.

Laughter at work is also a great way to contribute to your own morale and that of your colleagues. On this the research is clear - when people are happier at work, relationships improve, sick leave reduces and performance improves. At a physiological level, laughter reduces the levels of the stress hormone, Cortisol, and increases the feel-good hormones, Endorphins.

Yet, many of us think it takes time to contribute to morale, time we do not have. Some of us are thinking that we would be laughing as well if we weren’t so busy. 

But does it really take time to smile or make one person laugh each day? Does injecting some lightness into your or your colleagues’ day really detract from your efficiency? The reality is just the opposite.

So, how do we encourage more laughter at work? The most important thing, I think, is coming to work with the right mindset. I assure you, that if you are looking for opportunities to inject lightness, you are bound to find them.

The safest form of humour is, of course, humour at your own expense. When you have said or done ‘dumb’ things, these should definitely be repeated for the entertainment of your colleagues. Doing so, also makes you more approachable as people will know that you know you are human.  

Australians also tend to be good at teasing or ‘paying out on’ others. But here you need to choose your marks carefully and be very responsive to feedback they give through their demeanour. While some see such teasing as a sign of affection and give as good as they get, others can be quite offended. As my wife often says to me about humour in my presentations, ‘When in doubt, leave it out.’

There is also general playfulness – friendly competitions at work, home-made morning teas, wine and cheese occasions, and dress-up days. Here I am reminded of my mum and her pre-school colleagues dressing like children on a regular basis. Or a team or prosecutors I know who are rewarded with smiley faces when they achieve certain goals at work.

We need to remember that laughter is not a panacea for serious challenges at work. But its presence or lack thereof can be a barometer of how well people are travelling. While people do use humour to deal with the challenges, often other actions need to be taken to address the concerns.

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