“If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.” humor ―Robert Frost
Whenever tough times sweep in, humor follows close behind. And the last couple of months have certainly been no exception.
After closing down from visitors, the prestigious British Royal Academy of Arts issued a “ham drawing contest” that resulted in a bizarre display of ham drawing prowess across the country (a ham hunched over a desk working, a set of Dalí hams resembling the famous melting clocks painting, and even a tattoo of a ham on one man’s thumb). In true comedic form, comedians Sam Morril and Taylor Tomlinson moved in together and began producing an entire comedy show called “New Couple Gets Quarantined.” There’s also a New York Times therapist who shared in her article that more and more of her patients take virtual therapy calls seated on the toilet to ensure privacy. One, she said, even had a breakthrough when they accidentally bumped the flusher mid-conversation and laughed for the first time in a month. The list of strange, funny, and complex responses to social distancing could honestly be a book in and of itself.
To state the obvious, jokes like these happen during difficult times, because they make us feel good. They pull us away from negative thinking and into a more positive space. In the workplace especially, humor and a lighter environment benefit people and companies far beyond the moment of laughter. Here are three key benefits humor brings to the workplace.
Humor is an antidote to stress. Humor doesn’t just temporarily alleviate stress, it lightens your load mentally and physically. Laughter triggers a release of endorphins, increases oxygen intake and circulation, and relaxes your muscles. One study found that people who turned to humor in a difficult time were more likely to experience a shift in perspective as they realized different ways of viewing their problems and failures. Another study found that using humor to help a struggling colleague can build feelings of social support and trust. However, a word to the wise: research also shows that too much self-deprecating humor can backfire and make you more stressed.
Humor builds teams. When the British Royal Academy surprised everyone with the ham challenge purely for the sake of fun, people responded with surprisingly creative takes. The nonchalance and humor of the post loosened up the atmosphere, and the creativity followed. The same thing happens on the team level at organizations. Research shows that teams that joke and approach work in a playful manner build solidarity, trust, and a safe atmosphere where people feel they can be creative and genuine. The result is that each team member feels empowered, less tied down to a strict hierarchy.
Humor exudes confidence. “It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously.” –Oscar Wilde
When Dick Costolo accepted the job as Chief Operating Officer of Twitter, he quickly fired off a tweet: “First full day as Twitter COO tomorrow. Task #1: undermine CEO, consolidate power.” Costolo’s tweet was, of course, a joke. Funnily enough, he also went on to become the CEO years later. Humor has a way of drawing people to you. It humanizes you and shows confidence at the same time. Humor can even be the deciding factor when it comes to hiring or choosing a group leader. In a UPENN study, participants presented a Visit Switzerland campaign to a group of people. Some participants were instructed to conclude with a simple joke: “Travel to Switzerland. The flag is a big plus.” Those presenters were overwhelmingly perceived as more competent. People voted for them to present on behalf of the group. Perhaps most interestingly of all, the researchers found that even when the joke fell flat, the presenter was still rated as more competent. Purely by having the confidence to make the joke, the presenter won favor in the eyes of the group.
From Insight to Action. Humor at work doesn’t have to be forced, where employees get together and tell a daily joke. Leading by example is the best way to spark humor, levity, and creativity in a natural way. The occasional well-timed joke, whether or not it flops, will loosen people up, make everyone a bit more comfortable, and then your team will be well on its way.
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