I had just finished presenting at a leadership conference when my phone vibrated in my pocket; it was an email from a gentleman named Bruce who had booked me to speak at another leadership conference five months later. It turns out, he had just seen me speak, so the only reason he could be emailing me is because couldn’t wait to have me present to his group. What the email actually said was, “We’re going to rescind our request to have you present to our group,” then he called me “wildly unprofessional” which was just salt in the wound. That was unnecessary, Bruce.
The audience laughed throughout, I was approached by another attendee to speak for her group, and I received an email thanking me for my “funny and insightful presentation.” What the hell was wrong with Bruce?
But the more I reread his email and thought about what he had said, the more I could see his point of view: my presentation was designed to shake people out of their comfort zones by making fun of the status quo of work, but I didn’t take into account that many people comfortable with the status quo.
(Also, dick jokes aren’t typically part of your standard HR presentation. My bad, Bruce.)
The status quo of work I was making fun of: 1 in 3 Americans are engaged by their jobs and this disengagement costs American companies $450-$550 billion per year.
How can we engage the people who work with and for us and disrupt this status quo?
Remember you’re a human being and so are they. The world needs to be able to laugh at itself, which is why I sometimes approach my presentations with uncomfortable humor. When we can acknowledge that discomfort, we come to the realization that perhaps it’s time to make changes, and what better way than to introduce laughter into the fabric of work?
Do you like to laugh? Of course you do! And if you know you’re going somewhere you’re going to laugh, don’t you look forward to it? My hypothesis: if people actually look forward to laughing at work, it’ll engage them and inspire them to work better.
Here are 7 reasons why it’s time to make work the time and place to laugh:
1. Improves employee performance
According to a 2007 University of Missouri study, employees with a sense of humor show higher productivity, more effective communication, and a psychological connection to their work.
2. Improves leadership skills
According to the same University of Missouri study, leaders with a sense of humor were found to be more effective at motivating others and reducing workplace stress.
3. Employees want humor in the workplace
A Bell Leadership Institute survey found that employees would rather work for leaders who exhibit a sense of humor, as well as a strong work ethic. Imagine that!
4. Increases shareholder returns
A study by Huet and Associates found that organizations with higher levels of employee engagement where humor played a role outperformed similar companies on the stock market with increased shareholder returns of 19%.
5. Reduces the number of sick days
We’ve all heard that “laughter is the best medicine.” This doesn’t mean to stop taking your meds and laugh constantly, but incorporating laughter into your workplace’s leadership strategy improves overall health. The endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine that is released into the bloodstream when we laugh counteracts the cortisol that stress releases, thus reducing sick days and increasing productivity. Studies have found that consistent laughter lowers blood pressure, increases oxygen flow, fights upper respiratory infections, and improves pain tolerance.
6. Creates new perspectives of problems
Whether it’s a difficult coworker who spends most of their day complaining or a worldwide pandemic strikes, being able to laugh about it gives us a healthier perspective. Laughing about something minimizes the psychological impact by giving ourselves power over that thing. When we laugh about something that’s “too soon,” it’s our brain’s way of saying “I haven’t seen it that way before.” If we know to laugh, it presents a bigger picture that makes adversity seem smaller.
7. Helps solve creative challenges
In such a fast-paced world, outside-of-the-box thinking is vital in workplaces, and laughter activates our creativity much better than simply telling others to “think creatively, idiot.” A University of Maryland study found that groups who were shown funny videos then solved creative challenges at a rate of 58% vs. the 30% exhibited by control groups. So have the office watch, well, The Office before a meeting where you need ideas.
If you work for an organization looking for a creative edge, take a moment to find small ways to have fun around the office: from sharing funny memes to incorporating humor into your boring slideshows, there are a myriad of ways. Above are just 7 reasons to make work the time and place to laugh, but the benefits are endless. This is why it’s time to change what it means to be “professional” and explore what it means to be “wildly unprofessional.”