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Why silliness is the perfect antidote to workplace stress

A happy team is a productive team, and you won’t inspire people to excel by acting stressed out or glum.

Why silliness is the perfect antidote to workplace stress
[Photo and illustration: ezepov/iStock; Diane Alkier/Unsplash]

Your mindset is the energy you bring into a room. When a leader walks into the office stressed, cynical, humorless, and serious, it becomes a weight that everyone feels and must shoulder. The whole office feels “heavy,” which can significantly stifle productivity and even cause employees to dread coming to work.

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The World Health Organization has recognized work-related stress as an illness that leads to reduced professional efficacy and feelings of cynicism, negativity, and exhaustion. A 2018 study by work platform Wrike found that 94% of workers experience work-related stress, while almost a third feel unsustainably high levels of stress in the workplace.

As a leader, I consider a significant part of my job to be keeping my office as light and silly as possible. To be clear, I’m not talking about grand, nonsensical gestures. I’m talking about finding small ways to insert a little levity in a professional setting. I’ve found that air of silliness can be just the spark you need to inspire your team to be their best self.

When people feel comfortable in their environments, they’re more likely to seize opportunities, work harder, be creative, share ideas, and care about the success of their companies. The corporate world is serious enough as it is, so why add a layer of discomfort by cultivating a stressful culture?

Here are the three ways we’ve learned to inspire productivity while keeping the office vibe light.

1. Take your staff’s pulse

Apple, Microsoft, Etsy, and Airbnb all use “pulse surveys” to take the temperature of their employees. These surveys allow companies to measure employee engagement and gain insights about the health of the workforce. Understand, though, that pulse surveys aren’t like traditional employee audits. It’s not about asking a series of complex questions, but opting for simple ones. To get the most out of this exercise, it’s best if you do it regularly.

To keep surveys light and encourage participation, throw a few quirky questions into the mix. You’ll learn more about your employees, and sharing the results of more off-the-wall questions can elevate the mood and help your team members bond.

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Some of the best ideas come from carefree minds. If people understand there’s no need to be stressed, they’re more likely to lean into the positive aspects of work and arrive at truly innovative solutions.

2. Really read the room

John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, looks to hire people who have high emotional intelligence. He feels it’s an essential trait for people in leadership roles—more so than cognitive abilities.

People with high EQs know how to quickly take the temperature of a room and manage interpersonal relationships. They’re serious when they need to be, and they’re light when the situation calls for it. They’re always observing, which helps heighten EQ and improve relationship management.

I’m a firm believer in hiring people who are emotionally intelligent enough to sense dangerously high levels of stress. It’s usually easy to notice stress emanating from others. People who have higher EQs, however, have a unique ability to recognize this emotional state and adjust the mood—even if they’re not the stressor themselves.

Stay locked in with your employees and be present enough to know when to inject some levity into a tense situation. Track mood changes and be a beacon of positive energy that allows your staff members to remain optimistic in the face of potential adversity.

Personally, I make a point of scheduling one-on-one counseling sessions with each individual member of my team. This allows me to take a regular and focused look at each person’s personal and professional development. My goal is to act as a sounding board for any feedback or insights each team member provides. I also do my best to counsel them through issues or opportunities that require my attention.

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3. Set the silliness standard

Look at the Golden State Warriors: Steph Curry has a joyous and lighthearted vibe to his game. When he’s able to bring that fun energy to the court, the rest of the team follows suit. It also happens to be when they’re at their best.

The same thing is true of any environment. A lighthearted and playful organization pushes people to be at their best, and that positive energy is contagious. The Warriors aren’t scanning the court for someone to blame when things go awry—they’re celebrating success together. Levity helps people feel safe, and that safety leads to incredible power.

Before a big meeting or a call, I try my best to exude confidence and playfulness to calm my team. Next time you need to prepare your team, go out of your way to crack some jokes and break any tension you might sense. When negotiations intensify (as they tend to), people are likely to dig in and go to war. By making things relatively light at every stage of the process, those exchanges will be more productive and successful.


Jonathan Keyser is the founder of Keyser, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based commercial real estate broker.

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