Really, can I laugh at Work?


I started as a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company.  I was thrilled.  To think that someone would pay me to call on intelligent customers in offices staffed with friendly people who responded to my one-liners.  I noticed as I traveled from office to office that the environments reflected the personality or mood of the doctors.  Some were intense, frantic places to work, where the people rarely enjoyed themselves, rarely engaged in fun.  In other offices, although equally busy, the staff laughed appropriately and engaged in activities to cut the tension and reduce the stress.  They worked as a team, supporting each other, covering their backs to get the job done.

I’ve noticed this same phenomenon in business, school and other settings where people are together to accomplish anything.  Why are some places breeding grounds for stress and ulcers while others seem to mix enjoyment in their mix?  Why is this?  Why do some feel it is not professional or that it is against the rules to have a good time at work?  A common phrase in business is work / life balance.  The structure of the phrase insinuates that work is not life.  And if it’s not life, can it be fun?

One of my early managers attended one of my District Sales Meetings toward the end of a session filled with laughter.  One of my more humorous representatives was making a presentation that had the audience in tears.  I was parallel to the floor in my seat with tears streaming down my phrase.  I received a memo a few days later from my manager that stated that “judging from the level of laughter in the room he arrived, it was obvious that the meeting was not professional.”  There was the connection made that if there was laughter, we were not being productive, nor were we being professional. Recent research has disproved his theory.

Matt Weinstein in his book “Managing to have fun” says, “In a company where  the management begins to speak of “re-engineering,” the employees immediately think of “layoffs,”and morale plummets. And after the ‘downsizing” happens, many of their friends are gone from the company. In such a difficult time, is there any reason to initiate laughter, play, celebration? Absolutely. During these difficult times it si even more important to make sure that joyfulness and celebration are still a part of our work lives.”

This impression starts in our school days.  The class clown was relegated to someone who was not your serious student and therefore was not elected class president or voted “most likely to succeed.” We say that laughter is the best medicine, but are reluctant to prescribe it on the job.  Studies have documented the beneficial effects on our bodies and state of mind, when we laugh.  Physiologically, the body responds favorably.  It has been shown to reduce stress.  Laughter energizes and exercises the facial muscles and tones the disposition.  Yet on the job, many of us feel it is taboo to be relegated to the lunch counters, breaks or after work hours when we go on with our lives. There are a number of businesses devoted to infuse fun into your workplace.

We need to investigate ways to incorporate more humor into our work.  Some suggestions are to:

–      Let people know that it is OK to have fun

–      Model the behavior you want to see by poking fun at yourself

–     Establish a “fun commission” to develop ways to have fun

–      Discuss situation comedies that you saw on television, as well as movies

–      Celebrations are a good way to reduce stress on the job, i.e. birthdays, anniversaries, business achievements and other milestone events

–      Rather than look at the negative side of things, search for the positive view and the humorous perspective

–      Tell stories and share humorous nuggets from your past and weekend activities

–      Hang cartoon and humorous sayings in appropriate places around work

–      Hire interesting people

–      Listen to tastefully presented jokes in books or CD’s

–      Beware of practical jokes and pranks that could hurt feelings or have negative results

–      Set limits to humor because it can get out of line so deliver the rules of the road

Someone needs to take leadership in setting the ground rules for laughter at work.  An environment that is fun can bring a team closer together, increase productivity, engagement and reduce employee turnover.  I use to say, “If is not fun, it is not fair. If it is not fair, it is up to us to do something about it. We have the power to choose fun.” Finding ways to implement or appropriately increase the laughter quotient in your place of work can have profound consequences and pay tremendous dividends.  Starting today let everyone know that it is OK to laugh at work and prove it.

Copyright © 2010 Orlando Ceaser

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