The 7 Benefits of Humor in the Workplace

Laughter in the Workplace Boosts Health and the Bottom-Line.


“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.”  The more you laugh, the more you live!

E. E. Cummings

Laughter in the Workplace?

In an effort to continue to provide small business owners and executives with health promotion tools for greater work productivity, this current article will focus on a modality that may not be a common practice in the workplace.

There’s no shortage of “tools” available supposedly to boost productivity in the workplace, but there is often an overlooked resource that can prove to be extremely beneficial: laughter.

Our mission statement of  “adding years to life and life to years” for our executive clients requires modifying a multitude of health behaviors when their goal is to avoid burnout in the workplace, retain a leadership role, and be able to slide into retirement years and beyond in good health.

As executives and small business owners, these roles require tenacity, persistence, resistance and high level focus which when coupled with the additional responsibility of the financial performance of the company, are left feeling irritable, short-tempered and unapproachable.  Without the ability to laugh, especially in the face of life’s ironies, incongruities and adversities, the day to day workplace challenges become an obstacle to profitability and overall health.

How Does Laughter Improve Health?

For centuries it has been hypothesized that laughter is the best medicine.  Humor in mainstream medicine is not a specialty in the traditional sense.  Although subjective, there seems to be a connection between humor and the positive emotions associated with it.

Over the past decade, research studies have focused on the physiological and psychological responses to laughter.

Studies have shown that laughter, as an adjunctive therapy, boosts the body’s immune system, decreases stress hormones, lowers blood pressure, exercises muscles (abdominal, facial and respiratory), increases blood oxygenation, decreases pain, increases healing after surgery and promotes well-being.

A 2009 study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) in Baltimore, were the first to indicate that laughter along with an active sense of humor may help protect against a heart attack.  According to Dr. Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventative Cardiology at UMMC states, “The old saying that laughter is the best medicine definitely appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart.

We don’t understand why laughing protects

We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we do know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective lining of the blood vessels.  This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack.”

The researchers in the study compared the humor responses of 300 participants where half the subjects had heart disease and half had no heart disease.

The most significant finding of this study reported “people with heart disease responded less humorously to everyday life situations. They displayed more anger and hostility and generally laughed less even in positive situations.”

In recent decades, the driving force for the increased interest of humor and health was the publication of Norman Cousin’s article “Anatomy of an Illness” in the New England Journal of Medicine, which subsequently evolved into a best-selling book (Cousins, 1979).  The author’s remarkable story recounts how he recovered from ankylosing spondylitis (a progressive and painful rheumatoid disease involving inflammation of the spine) through laughter and large doses of vitamin C.

Cousins claimed that 10 minutes of hearty laughter had a reliable analgesic effect, providing two hour of pain free sleep.  He documented that episodes of laughter resulted in the reduction of the sedimentation rate (a measure of inflammation).

Even though Cousin’s experience is only anecdotal and not generalizable, this case is widely cited as evidence for the health benefits of laughter.

How Does Humor Fit Into the Workplace

It seems reasonable to describe the current business environment as stressful. Increased competition has led organizations to emphasize the need for innovation and creativity.  Concurrently, organizational commitment is often low, and turnover is a significant problem that may contribute to teams with weak social bonds.

Increasing diversity in the workplace can be not only a source of new ideas but also a source of conflict if not managed appropriately. Given these factors, and others, it is a challenge to create or maintain healthy social systems in organizations.

Humor has the potential to remedy some of these problems and promote healthy social relations in the workplace.

Here are the seven benefits of hunor in the workplace:

1.  Productivity: Let’s face it: if employees don’t enjoy their working environment, work efficiency decreases.  However, if the work environment promotes a level of tasteful humor and laughter, the resulting outcome is increased employee morale and productivity.

2.  Trust: Humor allows both employees and managers to come together, creating a unified bond to accomplish goals for the company.​

3.  Creativity: Humor allows for creativity in the workplace.  People who laugh in response to a conflict tend to shift from convergent thinking where they can see only one solution, to divergent thinking where multiple ideas are considered.​

4.  Low Turnover: Humor in the workplace boosts morale and employee retention.  Employees like to work for employers who display a sense of humor.​

5.  Open Communication: Humor creates an enthusiastic environment that encourages employee/employer interaction, initiatives, creative ideas and strengthening of team spirit; all leading to greater productivity.​

6.  Interaction: Laughter creates a relaxed work environment where employees are confident to share ideas and employers are more receptive to hearing them.​

7.  Bonding: Laughter increases the cohesion and the creativity of the team: laughter creates bonding, the more people laugh together, the better they work together.

Despite the belief that business settings and organizations are serious and stern, humor can lighten the mood within the work environment and make work life more enjoyable.

Within work teams and groups, understanding the multifunctional role of humor in organizations can actually contribute to effective management of personnel, provide valuable benefits to organizations, and provide valuable tools to management for motivating staff, communicating effectively, and mitigating discord.

Related articles:

Productivity Means Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Maintaining Control of the Small Business Workplace Culture

Productivity: 3 Tools to Manage Tasks


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