Recent research has proved that laughter really is the best medicine. According to a University of Oxford study, people actually feel less pain after a good laugh, because it causes the body to release endorphins that act as natural painkillers. Researchers also found that in addition to dulling the pain, these laughter-induced endorphins make people more susceptible to developing bonds with each other.
So scientific confirmation that a good belly laugh can do you the world of good… but also a finding that could well have implications for the workplace. If we made the workplace more of a fun (or funny) place to be, for example, might it help to reduce absence levels? And if a bit of light-hearted banter was an integral part of the working week, would it help people gel better with their colleagues and work together more effectively as a team?
Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that managers should turn up to work in comedy ties or start practising their stand-up routines in the lift. But it’s probably true to say that if the prevailing atmosphere in the office is one of fun, employees are more likely to look forward to coming into work and less likely to use any excuse to stick their heads back under the duvet.
One of my most stressful working experiences in recent years was an interim post in an office where everyone was frankly quite miserable. People were under constant pressure, heads were down and chatting (and the eating of biscuits) was actively discouraged. It was all quite depressing and demoralising and I found it very difficult to get enthusiastic about the job in hand.
This contrasted starkly with my early days on the news desk of a local paper, where the team was constantly up against pressing deadlines but remained cheerful in the face of adversity thanks to the ability to see the funny side of things. Everyone was happy to help each other out and to go the extra mile and we got through the day with shared jokes and copious amounts of cake.
Instrumental in this of course was the editor, who managed to run a tight but happy ship and was the instigator of much of the general jollity. Now this isn’t a skill that comes naturally to all managers – and it’s important to recognise that there is of course a fine line when it comes to the use of humour at work. What one person finds funny another might well find offensive – and in these litigious times, managers do need to tread a little carefully.
Encouraging a relaxed and light-hearted atmosphere at work is, however, something that all businesses can safely do. People who are working in a climate of ‘fear’ and uncertainty are not likely to produce their best work. Letting staff breathe, giving them a bit of autonomy and keeping them in the loop about any changes that are afoot is the key to not just happy, but also productive employees.
So what do you think? Could business in general benefit from an injection of fun? And what will you be doing to make your office a happier place tomorrow?