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Humor in the workplace

What we think determines how we feel

By Nancy Proctor, BSN, MAE
Patient Experience Manager & Educator
Blanchard Valley Health System

Every business knows how integral a core set of values is to driving behavior that results in exceptional product and service quality.

However, most haven’t really considered how a value of humor in the workplace facilitates success. When you can laugh and have fun at work it carves the path to mutual purpose and mutual respect. Humor also facilitates the physiology that supports optimal health, keeping your workforce present and accounted for.

The trouble is our society takes away recess at about the age of ten. We are conditioned very early on that “work is virtuous and play is frivolous.” If you are laughing at work you couldn’t possibly be doing your job or taking it seriously, be good at what you do and you definitely need more to do. It’s time to bring back recess.

When you can laugh with your co-workers it solidifies relationships, creates a sense of belonging and pulls people into the fold. Suddenly your team has a new sense of safety and security.

When people feel safe at work they are willing to take the risks to become more of who they are. They are more creative, productive, communicate more effectively, stay in control of their emotional brain and equally important will show up for work and be on time. There is a very hard bottom line to this soft skill of humor.

Humor gives us power
Humor gives us power, kidding around about difficulties decreases fear and anxiety that can lead to anger and depression. It teaches us perspective and reminds us that even though we can’t control the events in our lives, we can choose to control how we respond to them. As Steve Covey says, “what we think determines how we feel,” and therein lies the healing power of humor.

Stress in the workplace is undeniable and chronic stress results in a variety of physiologic changes. Laughing is one of the top two antidotes to the destructiveness of the stress response second only to exercise.

Twenty seconds of laughing is equal to three minutes of aerobic activity, it is “internal jogging.” Every system in your body gets a workout. Norman Cousins tells us that 10 minutes of genuine laughter results in two to three hours of relaxation, reduced tension and pain relief because of the endorphins that are released increasing our focus and concentration

How do we know when humor is indicated? When it is the least intuitive. When you’re experiencing not so funny, life changing, stressful stuff. When we feel overwhelmed, burned out and hopeless.

But why wait, incorporate humor into your work day every day and measure the benefit in decreased absenteeism, turnover rates, conflict, substance abuse and an increase in employee satisfaction.