How a Workplace Taboo Can Increase Employee Engagement and Productivity

“This is not the time nor the place to laugh.” “Why are you laughing when you should be working?” “Work is work. You’ll have time to play when you’re done.”

These should sound familiar to many of us, especially coming from the mouths of our managers and executives as a hearty guffaw is stifled before it can breathe life into the otherwise routine, stressful, and mundane workday.

Comedy and productivity are two things you probably don’t associate with one another, but believe it or not, the evidence is overwhelming:

Comedy (humor, to be more precise) in the workplace increases productivity, counteracts stress, builds trust, strengthens relationships, improves performance, builds leadership skills, engages employees, reduces sick days, enhances learning and memory, provides needed perspective in the face of failure, opens lines of communication, attracts great people, drives creativity, strengthens confidence, and transforms workplace culture into one centered around the well-being of others, making work meaningful, and a breeding ground for happiness.

So sure, make your work environment “humor free,” but eliminating light-heartedness from work is no laughing matter.

We have been entrenched in a culture of work focused on appeasing shareholders, reaching quotas, and meeting deadlines for as long as the humans on this planet have been alive – and even longer than that – so the “work-is-work” mentality is ingrained in our DNA. It’s no wonder a majority of workplaces don’t place very high value on the power of laughter – they have no idea of the benefits. It’s not like we learn about the numerous benefits of humor in the workplace, in college, or even at work trainings, so what I’m writing here might be news to you.

And that’s okay… but now, it’s time to do something.

Now, we’re entering an age where information is readily available at the click of a button, and study after study, poll after poll, and case after case show that positive laughter in the workplace is transformative. Now, we can find companies who have instituted humor programs, see the positive results, and figure out what works for our company. Now, we can finally feel great about letting loose and laughing a little, because even though our bosses don’t seem to value humor at work… well actually… they do:

  • A survey of 730 CEOs by Hodge Cronin and Associates found that 98% would rather hire someone with a good sense of humor than someone with a more serious demeanor.
  • 91% of executives in a Robert Hath International survey agreed that humor is important for career advancement, while 84% believe that people with a good sense of humor do a better job than their counterparts.

There are far too many positive side effects to continue to list, so I’ll let the following articles, books, and studies do the talking.

https://hbr.org/2018/11/the-benefits-of-laughing-in-the-office

https://hbr.org/2014/05/leading-with-humor

https://wol.iza.org/articles/are-happy-workers-more-productive/long

http://mentalfloss.com/article/564511/laughter-at-work-can-boost-productivity

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/laughing-at-work-can-actually-make-people-take-your-career-more-seriously-2018-11-20

http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/Bitterly%20Brooks%20Schweitzer%20JPSP%202016_54efbab5-2561-4408-b008-38d958e0ad50.pdf

http://apps.prsa.org/Intelligence/Tactics/Articles/view/11933/1143/Play_at_Work_Increasing_Communication_and_Producti#.XKG6dutKjOS

Improv:http://time.com/4357241/improv-lessons-success/

TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iFCm5ZokBI

Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why – Scott Weems

The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way To the Bank – Michael Kerr

Work Rules!: Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead – Laszlo Bock

What are some ways you can infuse humor into your work?

Work isn’t the time or place to laugh, eh? Knowing what we know now, that’s damn funny.

What’s Your Work Experience?

When you’re filling out a job application or updating your resumé, this is a question you have to consider. Your response is probably a list of previous jobs and brief descriptions that you think make you sound way better than how you would describe those jobs to a friend. Great. Now your prospective employer knows the version of your story you want them to know:

  • Provided quality customer service to customers
  • Accurately calculated ROIs for new company initiatives
  • Efficiently mopped

Looking back, however, what’s more important is your real work experience, or your experience of work. Think of the last job you had, what was your experience? Was it focused on making money to provide for yourself and your family? Was it centered around meeting and working with cool people? Were you there to give back to the community or fulfill a passion? Was it a positive, negative, or just “eh” experience? Was it filled with stress, dealing with impossibly difficult people, and a lack of motivation? Or was it enjoyable, filled with supportive people, and an inspiring, engaging environment? When we think of an experience, we think of something that happens to us or around us, when in reality, our experience is something we create for ourselves based on our perspective. If you work for an accounting firm because of the benefits, you’re going to have a different work experience than you would if you were there because you cared about your coworkers. Ask yourself, “What experience did I create for myself and others at work?” Then ask “How can I improve my current work experience, not only for myself, but for those around me too?”

One of my first days working at a restaurant in Cleveland, one of the people training me told me, “This place is bullshit. Get out while you can.” He was fired not too long after this and, according to him, the reason he was fired was, unsurprisingly, “some bullshit.” I have now worked there for over two years, but I know that if I were to spend it looking for “bullshit,” I’d find it and not enjoy the job like I have. Instead, I focus on providing guests and coworkers a fun, memorable experience by making my positive experience contagious. Though it isn’t my dream job, I have enjoyed every minute of it, all because of my conscious choice to mold my experience to make me and those around me better.

How can two people work at the same place and have two completely different experiences?

Imagine you’re a camera operator at a basketball game. You’re positioned along the baseline under the basket. On the opposite end of the court, a foul is called, resulting in boos from the home crowd and protests from the players. The TV broadcast then cuts to an instant replay from your camera’s angle to see what exactly happened, but because of where you were positioned, you didn’t get a clear shot of the incidental contact between players. However when the broadcast switches to another camera angle closer to the action, the foul becomes evident. Both cameras witnessed the same play, but each captured a different story.

The work experience you create is determined by what you choose to see. If you choose to see the “bullshit,” then it’s going to be tough to create a positive experience for yourself and the people you work with. If your focus is on creating a positive, rewarding experience, the “bullshit” will be harder to come by. What work experience did you create at your past jobs? What work experience are you creating for yourself at your current job? What kind of experience do you want to have? What can you do to change your experience into one that is enjoyable and fulfilling, but also supportive of those around you? Your call to action today is to assess your perspective of work, decide what type of experience you’d like to have, and take one step toward creating that experience for yourself.

Your experience depends on your camera angle, which determines your subsequent action, creating your result. I can’t imagine you wanting to be surrounded by “bullshit,” so create your work experience the way you want. The better your experience, the better the experience for those around you, and the better you perform.