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The Importance of Not Being Earnest
by Siobhan Hammond, Director of Client Services, BergHind Joseph
If you think back to your childhood days, they were probably filled with giggling, laughter, chatter and fun. It was a time when your greatest concern was whether to have fish-fingers or pizza for tea and your biggest conflict was with your parents and what time you had to go to bed.
Fast-forward to today and that joyful, care-free attitude is probably a distant memory. Since making our voyage into adulthood and becoming working men and women, a hypothetical ‘serious’ switch has been flicked – something that’s made apparent when we pass through the threshold of work: the place where all too often we become stern, unemotional and won’t engage in laughter or social engagement.
It may sound like an extreme interpretation, but the idea is not far from reality. When at work, most of us believe that we must be serious in order to be taken seriously. Why? The reason is two-fold:
1. We have a fear of being seen as “[insert name here] the joker” which will threaten our professional position and career progression
2. Historically the workplace has been seen as a place ‘to get the job done’; with employers and employees taking the view that if work isn’t a toil we simply aren’t working hard enough
The truth is that this style of thinking and working is out dated. Research proves that an absence of laughter in the workplace is a major contributor to workplace stress; for example, in the UK, this is one of the most common causes of long-term sickness absence in the workplace (according to CIPD), which costs the economy around £8.4bn every year . When replicated across the developed economies, the impact becomes phenomenal.
The power of laughter at work
The time has come to revert to our childhood tendencies. Let’s take laughter and embrace it. Let’s use its power in the workplace to transform it into a place of positivity, productivity and engagement. Why? Laughter is a powerful tool which can achieve astounding results for businesses. Research conducted in 2002 for an industry-wide study of 2,500 employees found that 93% believed laughter on the job helped them to reduce work-related stress .
That said, laughter is much more than a tonic to reduce stress. Laughter is, in fact, a product of humour and instilling it at work creates a positive environment that builds bonds between colleagues, encourages positive and innovative thinking, creates better communication, and eliminates negative attitudes; the result of which is increased productivity and profitability.
Creating a place of humour
Before getting carried away with the concept of humour and laughter at work, there is some small print that you should be made aware of... Using humour certainly won’t suit every organisation and should never be used as a quick fix for employee engagement problems.
For humour to flourish, it needs an environment in which employees feel welcome, comfortable, and relaxed. This will then naturally inspire people to express themselves - from which humour will organically grow and with it so will laughter.
Alongside this, organisations need to create and embrace play and playfulness in the workplace – which may be a daunting prospect for some, but is something that Lisa Sturge, Director of Laughterlines Coaching, says is imperative: ”Playfulness initiates laughter and negates the need to understand the joke. It encourages people to be freer with their minds and bodies which again can help with stress relief and creative ideas”.