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  • Tamar Balkin

It’s Time To Bring Some Fun Back To Work

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

When I think back to my first job as a psychologist in child protection, my colleagues were fond of harmless pranks. It was common to hear shrieks of laughter when people realised that the letters on their key board had been switched, their office chairs were missing, or they spotted a plastic spider in their office drawer. The unexpected laughter was a welcome relief in this emotionally draining work environment. Yet today's workplaces seem to be characterised by silence. Despite the low unemployment rates in Australia, there is a level of seriousness and intensity in our workplaces and the only sounds are typing, harried footsteps and, if we are lucky, a bit of chatter at work, unfortunately, raucous laughter is very uncommon. I do not think it is necessary for me to persuade you to be funny and light-hearted, as anyone who has had a good belly laugh recently is well aware of its benefits to our well-being. (Martin, R., Kuiper, N., Olinger, L., et al. 2009). In in fact is has been demonstrated that sense of humour reduces the deleterious impact of stressful and negative life experiences. But what impact can laughter have at the workplace? Laughter and humour in the workplace if done correctly can:

  • Reduces stress

  • Defuse tense conversations.

  • Improve psychological well being

  • Break the ice – with people you don’t know well

  • Brings joy when things get a bit monotonous, boring, or mentally painful.

  • Remind people to smile and laugh

  • Increase social connection

  • Send a message not to take things too seriously

Peter McGraw has dedicated most of his professional career to studying humour, interestingly he found, as many advertising executives know, we are better at remembering things that are funny or unusual. (see references for a full interview with him) It was quite fun, looking for a good example of humour in advertising to share with you, whilst I am not promoting Volkswagens, I hope you find this example fun. So why are we so serious at work? There are some characteristics of the office work environment that may inhibit humour, some include:

  • Psychological safety,

  • Fear of offending,

  • High levels of stress and accountability,

  • Levels of trust within the team.

  • Culture

  • Incivility

  • Job security

  • Nature of the job

  • Time

Think about it, if your staff are worried that there may be negative repercussions if they engage in lighthearted shenanigans then they may shy away from laughter. For example if work is being measured in 5-minute intervals then staff may worry that time spent on humour may be frowned upon. So what can you do? Recent Australian research indicated that managers are at their least happy and productive when their roles are unclear, there is too much conflict over the tasks required, and there is just too much work. Rectifying these aspects of work, looks simple on paper but requires effort and attention on your part as a leader. Remember like any change program, to bring humour to work you need to do things gradually. Naturally, trust and psychological safety are critical, then it’s time to gradually shift the culture. Start cracking a few little jokes, smiles with people already know have a good sense of humour. For example, a smile rather than a frown when something trivial goes wrong is a safe way to begin. Then gradually encourage them to follow your lead. (see my blog for tips) There are many ways to then begin to introduce more fun and laughter into the workplace.

  • The radio this morning reminded me of the fun associated with riddle challenges.

  • For your next training program or refresher course create a scavenger hunt.

  • Take your team off to an improv course. It will help your team in many ways, it is great to get people thinking on their feet. They won’t just be funnier, they will be quicker on their feet, more relatable to other people, better able to pick up on threads in conversation and relate to them spontaneously.

  • Here is some inspiration for some potentially harmless office pranks: Finally, challenge your team to come up with some ideas to bring fun into your workplace, once the culture is right and they know you are supportive, I am sure they will be creative and the laughter will flow. ---------- References: Martin, R., Kuiper, N., Olinger, L., et al. (2009). Humor, coping with stress, self-concept, and psychological well-being. Humor - International Journal Of Humor Research, 6(1), pp. 89-104. Martin, R.A & Lefcourt, H. M (1983). Sense of humor as a moderator of the relation between stressors and moods. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 45(6):1313–1324.

The Peter McGraw interview audio file: The Peter McGraw interview transcript:

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