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Work Smart

The Surprising Ways Humor Can Improve Your Work Culture

Simply knowing that someone has a sense of humor is likely to make you feel more confident around them.

[Photo: Everett Collection via Shutterstock]

Ever noticed how difficult it is to spend a lot of time around someone who doesn’t have a sense of humor? More than just being dull, those interactions can actually get tense after a while. Chances are you feel the urge to get out of that person’s company as quickly as possible.

Humorless work environments aren't exactly neutral—they can actually become pretty toxic. In fact, some now argue that humor doesn't just make workplaces happier, healthier places, it might actually make them more productive. It's that belief that keeps people like humorist, speaker, and author Michael Kerr busy travelling around the world teaching people how to lighten up at work. Here are five reasons why injecting a little well-placed humor into your work culture can have you laughing all the way to the bank.

1. It Can Lower Stress And Improve Motivation

Humor is a great antidote to excessive stress build-up. There's nothing like a good laugh to help us relax and see the upsides to difficult situations. What's more, humor is contagious and typically helps others decrease their stress, too.

Workplaces where humor is common are more relaxed places to be, even when no one's laughing. As Kerr writes in his book, You Can't Be Serious: Putting Humor to Work, "Humor reduces tension in a stressful situation, provides a realistic perspective when you need it, gives you control over your emotions, and helps you rise above a crisis."

One of the most effective ways to create a more positive work culture is simply to lighten up a little, cluing people in that humor isn't just acceptable, it's encouraged. It's so much easier to show up to work that way—whereas a somber, dull, overly serious office is the surest path to killing employees' motivation.

2. It Builds Stronger Relationships

It's typically easier to approach someone you've had a laugh with—no matter their rank or yours. Simply knowing that someone has a sense of humor is likely to make you feel more confident around them. And the fear of making a mistake and being judged diminishes, and we feel comfortable sharing our ideas.

The benefits can multiply from there. When all your employees are comfortable around one another, decision making itself becomes a much more fluid, less fraught process. Team building is predicated on breaking down barriers—not just those that cause people to be suspicious and fearful of one another, but also the subtler ones that an overly formal, stodgy work culture can breed. Humor offers a shortcut around them.

3. It Helps You Show Appreciation

Offering an award or saying "thank you" aren't the only ways to express gratitude. In humorless workplaces, even those gestures can become forced, awkward events. So add humor to them.

That's why "roasts" are such a popular way to give someone a sendoff or to honor them. Of course, that's only one of the more obvious examples, and the humor you use around the office to convey appreciation doesn't need to be so theatrical in order to be effective. Still, it remains true that some people have a difficult time showing emotions, including affection. Humor can become a helpful vehicle for expressing how deeply someone has impacted you.

4. It Improves Your Health

"Laughter is the best medicine" is more than just a cute saying. Researchers have found that experiencing humor is positively correlated to improved immune functioning. In our bodies, laughter reduces the serum cortical, a hormone released when we undergo stress, and triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals.

What's more, humor doesn't just benefit you while you're in the throes of it. A good bout of laughter can release tension and leave muscles relaxed for quite some time afterward. It also increases blood flow, which over time can even lower your chances of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.

5. It Makes For Smoother Transitions

Change and transition naturally evoke feelings of uncertainly and discomfort. Humor helps diminish that anxiety by taking our minds off the worst-case scenarios. And because it reinforces interpersonal bonds, humor can also reinforce the support networks that we know to be so crucial for navigating big changes. In other words, humor keeps work cultures both flexible and strong. Those that aren't tend to crumble in the face of change. So you might want to loosen up, or else.

Related: Fast Comedy's "How To Tell If You're "That Person" In Your Office"

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