In 1940 Henry Ford sacked a worker for “smiling on the job”, having already committed a previous offence of “laughing with other fellows”. Ford’s belief that “play and work don’t mix” was the prevailing view then and for decades after. And although, 70 years on, we’ve come a long way, there still seems to be a bit of a reluctance to embrace the power of laughter and fun in the workplace. A recent Harvard Business Study says: “More than four decades of study by various researchers have proven that humour, used skilfully, reduces hostility, deflects criticism, relieves tension, improves morale and helps communicate difficult messages”. Laughing and playfulness exercises the right side of the brain. It releases creativity, builds relationships and generally makes people happy, and happy workers make productive workers. But still so many companies can’t make the leap of faith to actively encourage and facilitate fun as part of work. Many of those who do value fun will go no further than tolerating cakes on a Friday and the occasional quiz night in the canteen. How many big companies are prepared to go all the way and to really use humour as a strategic engagement tool? Of course, some companies do ‘play at work’ well, but in many industries, especially the traditional left-brain professions like law, accountancy and financial services, with their cold, ‘hear a pin drop’ offices, fun and laughter brings disapproving looks of unprofessionalism and immaturity. How can we break this and get employers to lighten up? Surely we could all benefit from taking work a little less seriously and not be labelled as uncommitted? Research has shown that people with a strong sense of humour do better in business than the stick-in-the-muds. So let’s see a sense of humour as a leadership capability. Let’s start recruiting people on their sense of fun. Let’s use comedy as a morale booster. Let’s play panel games and light-hearted exercises to embed messages. Let’s train line managers on the art of play and the value of laughter. Let’s invest in bringing Laughter Clubs into the workplace. Some people are allowed smoking breaks, why not tolerate laughing breaks? I’m serious.
We need to start somewhere, so here are six simple exercises to get people laughing in your team:
- Play business charades – get team members to act out a business process, department or comms message through mime
- Ask people to ‘make up’ a new process or department – the dafter the better
- Start every meeting with a joke or a funny story
- Get everyone to ‘doodle’ their week or communicate it via a comic strip
- Take photos around the office and ask people to come up with captions
- Have regular competitions and daft office games, like jargon bingo or see how many song titles you can insert into a team discussion
It’s worth remembering that children laugh 100 times a day. Adults laugh barely a dozen times a day. Funny eh?