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  • Writer's pictureMichael Cundall Jr.

Humor, Stress, and Engagement: Following Up Last Week's Post

I focused on a whole bunch of numbers that painted a rather gloomy outlook for the workforce. Turnover is high and likely to get worse rather than better. People are disengaged at levels difficult to comprehend. Recent research also indicates that the US is the 4th most highly stressed countries in the country. We only trail countries like Albania and Iran. It doesn’t take much to see that there’s a crisis brewing or already here. We may not be the Titanic sinking yet, but conditions are ripe for real problems to occur. I happen to think that this crisis can be dealt with in small incremental ways. It took us a long time to get here, and clearly older approaches to leadership and employee engagement are lacking. I think that with attention, diligence, and no small amount of humor, we can begin to chip away at the disengagement problem and reduce overall levels of stress we see at work and elsewhere.

Imagine coworkers who were less stressed, more creative, more engaged, remembered more of what was going on, and whose workspace is filled with stories, laughs and smiles, all while being more productive and enjoying their work more? This would be a paradise. I’d look forward to getting up on Monday morning. So would you. The question to be asked isn’t “Why should we pay attention to humor at work?” The real question to be asked is “Why aren’t organizations spending more time focusing on humor and exploring how it works and learning to use it in more effective ways?”

Why should anyone think that a few laughs and some shared humor can help fix such a large problem? Because it’s the only thing that can. Humor has a number of salutary effects and I have written about them here and here. But here’s a little recap and remember, this is all based on research available to anyone. The evidence is clear, we should be using humor to help our employees and ourselves lead better lives.

  • Humor helps us stay on tasks and complete them more effectively, more efficiently, and with an improved sense of accomplishment

  • Humor and laughter have restorative effects on health—it boosts mood, it reduces stress related factors, increases body’s immune system

  • Humor improves creativity. Yes, “Ha-Ha” leads to “Ah-ha!”

  • Humor strengthens social ties

  • Humor helps with memory

  • People who are funny are typically rated higher

The main reasons are that humor isn’t serious and work is serious. There are projects to manage and deliverables to, well, deliver. We can’t be seen to be laughing and goofing off. There is also the worry that humor leads to offense and difficult discussions with HR personnel. While this is a valid worry, there are ways to mitigate that risk. Most of the humor I treasure happens to be humor that isn’t ridiculing anyone, well maybe except for myself. Humor is like any other tool. If you learn to use it well, the results are good. Use it poorly and results are poor too.

Research also shows that companies that have a more engaged workforce do better. Companies in the top quartile of engagement have 10% higher customer metrics, 17% higher productivity, 20% higher sales and 21% higher profitability. They also boast a 2x increase in customer loyalty, higher productivity, turnover. This isn't terribly surprising. I know that when I like my job and appreciate the people I work with, want to hang out with them more, I am more willing to hang out for the extra ten minutes after work to help someone and I am sure to tell people about those positive experiences.

Adding humor to work isn’t going to vault your company into the top quartile of the engaged companies, but it will help. Humor will make those first difficult steps towards more engagement easier and more effective. People will not only feel less stress, but they will start becoming better at their jobs and feel more fulfilled. If we take seriously the need for engagement, then humor is one surefire way to increase it. The evidence is compelling, the crisis is real, and humor is one of the tools that can best help us. So take humor seriously and get to adding it into your daily life.

P.S. If you're looking for a few things in the world of social media check out #laughatwork it's a small step, but it might brighten your day a touch.

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