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Sustainable Humor IN the Workplace! :-)

Humor in the workplace overcomes stress and cultural barriers

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Humor in the workplace

Wise Guys Boosts Productivity and Community

Humor – particularly joking around about things associated with the job – actually has a positive impact in the workplace, says Chris Robert, assistant professor of management in MU’s Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business.

Occasional humor among colleagues, he said, enhances creativity, department cohesiveness and overall performance. The conclusion was made by examining theories on humor and integrating literature from a wide variety of disciplines that touch on the subject.

Build Rapport and Relationships

Laughter and humor have been the heart of numerous new research projects and some of the findings include:
  • People who watched a 15-minute comedy video scored higher on a survey of hopefulness compared to those who didn't get the chance to guffaw.

  • A report released last month from the University of Maryland Medical Center found laughter makes blood vessels function better, causing the tissue that lines the vessels to expand, increasing blood flow.

  • A previous study at the same institution concluded that laughter and an active sense of humor may protect against heart attacks.

  • Laugher can stimulate thought and cause you to toss out automatic behavioral responses in favor of more creative pursuits.

  • When someone laughs with us, relationships grow.
"Current research on laughter in general shows it's more about communicating emotion than about humor," says Carl Marci, lead author of a paper in the October issue of the Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases.

In the field of therapy, laughter can be contagious, especially when the therapist pays attention, and is willing to laugh with their patient, the study revealed. A laughing therapist is physically aroused, which in turn arouses the patient further. This helps build a rapport between the two.

It's just a small step to suppose that laughter between a boss and team members could follow the same rapport building, hope-inducing recipe.

But why would humor foster hope? Maybe just by inhibiting negative thoughts, said Texas A&M psychologist David H. Rosen, one of the new breed of humor researchers.

Humor is Serious Business

Several hundred sources were analyzed by Robert and collaborator Wan Yan, a business doctoral student, who have attempted to bring together literature from numerous disciplines to make the case that humor is serious business. That, guys, is serious business!

This idea comes as no surprise to workplace morale experts, who know a healthy workplace's effect on productivity. In workplaces plagued by persistent, unresolved conflict, you'll find high turnover, absenteeism, low morale, back-stabbing, and gossip, warns HR expert Mary O'Neill. In those workplaces, competition replaces collaboration, and productivity drops, she warns.

"Humor isn’t incompatible with goals of the workplace. It’s not incompatible with the organization’s desire to be competitive. In fact, we argue that humor is pretty important. It’s not just clowning around and having fun; it has meaningful impact on cohesiveness in the workplace and communication quality among workers. The ability to appreciate humor, the ability to laugh and make other people laugh actually has physiological effects on the body that cause people to become more bonded."

The good news, O'Neill says, is that if you teach your employees how to resolve conflict you can restore workplace happiness. A conflict resolution program leads to better employee retention, less absenteeism and more productivity, she adds.

Cross-Culture Humor

Robert stressed the international aspect is an important part of the research and said the paper addresses some of the key cultural differences between the United States and Asian economic powerhouses such as China and India.

"Humor is difficult in cross cultural situations," he said. "It's hard to know what’s going to be funny or when to use humor. Some people have suggested that you just avoid it all together; don’t be funny, don’t try to make jokes. We basically reject that and offer some ground rules for understanding when and what kind of humor might be appropriate."

building with cement and carbon footprint reduction To carry jokes across cultures, Robert suggested finding common ground.

"The most accepted theory of humor is incongruity theory—that people find things funny when you take two things and you connect them in an unexpected way," he said. "Humor doesn't work when you don't share expectations."

If you do use humor across cultures and in the workplace, "often the very work you're doing provides common expectations you can build on—customers, clients, coworkers, yourself, suppliers, the building you're working in," Robert said. "Or there are general human experiences, like funny things kids say, that almost anyone can share. Where people get into trouble is stepping on expectations, such as with religion, ethnicity or other values."

With a dash of respectful humor here and there, your workplace can become a lot more fun, and it's almost like getting another employee on staff for free.


Robert's Research

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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