October 27, 2020

Bringing Laughter to the Workplace

by Naomi Atkins in Blog Roll, Emotional Intelligence

For many of us, 2020 has been a rough year. With everything going on in the world, we could probably all use a little more laughter and fun in our lives. Laughing doesn’t just lift our mood, it improves our performance at work.

Studies have shown that laughter is associated with higher motivation and productivity and that humor can enhance insight and creative problem solving. A culture of levity in the workplace can help build stronger teams by improving morale and fostering a sense of camaraderie.

Leaders can help create a lighthearted, fun work culture for their teams—even in the most stressful of times. Whether your team is back in the office, working remotely, or somewhere in between—here are some tips to help make your workplace a more relaxed and enjoyable environment.

Set the Tone With Your Tone

As a leader, your team naturally looks to your behavior as the norm for interpersonal interactions. When you show up with a casual tone of voice and a wide smile, others will pick up on these social cues; they’ll feel more at ease and be more likely to adopt a similar attitude. Genuine smiles are better, but even a “fake it ‘til you make it” forced smile can get you headed in the right direction.

Consider taking a few moments before a meeting or group interaction to get yourself in a “lighthearted” frame of mind—watch a video of babies laughing, make goofy faces at yourself in the mirror, or just pause for a simple “mindful moment” to boost your mood. Like yawns, smiles and laughter can be contagious—and they signal that “laughter is okay here,” which encourages more of the same.

Embrace the Silly and Unexpected

Introducing some silliness into the workplace can help set a playful tone, as long as it’s appropriate to the setting and audience. Leaders can look for ways to bring some whimsy to the more mundane elements of work.

Have a contest to rename your conference rooms (who wouldn’t want to attend a weekly meeting in Gryffindor?). Incorporate a silly prop like a rubber chicken into your meeting facilitation or as part of your office decor. Start a routine presentation with a relevant video clip from your favorite sitcom. Change up your usual email signature or out-of-office reply by adding a personal touch—your favorite song, book, or funny quote. Integrating playfulness in this way gives others implicit “permission” to do the same. Help your team flex this muscle by setting a silliness standard.

Make Space for Lighthearted Rituals

Rituals are a great way to build a sense of community and connection, and can often bring opportunities for levity to the workplace. At Kadabra, we typically kick off team meetings with a check-in ritual: dedicated time to discuss personal or professional highlights and lowlights from the week. We consider this some of the most valuable time that we spend together—and in recent meetings, this practice has led to shared laughter about parenting fails and frantic attempts to change smoke alarm batteries in the middle of the night. As we’re all working virtually these days, rituals like these represent crucial time to connect.

Other lighthearted rituals could include playing upbeat music at meeting transitions, doing a “secret” handshake for good luck before a big presentation, or adopting a simple shared “goodbye” practice for virtual calls (e.g. everyone high-fives the camera before signing off).

Regular social activities unrelated to work can also help create space for shared experiences that forge connection—think monthly game nights, “casual Fridays,” or setting up Slack channels for people to connect over shared interests (e.g. gaming, crafting, outdoor adventures). The goal here is to create opportunities, not require participation. These efforts will fall flat if they feel like yet another work obligation.

Handle Humor With Care

When it comes to humor, context is crucial. It’s important to have a good grasp on what will “fly” with your project team or audience. Many of the ideas above would be better suited to an informal staff meeting than, say, a formal shareholder presentation. Different kinds of humor like inside jokes, sarcasm, and self-deprecating stories can all be used effectively in the workplace—as long as you take into consideration the audience and circumstances.

It also (hopefully) goes without saying that offensive, discriminatory humor in any form is not acceptable in any setting. Leaders must be cognizant that unconscious biases exist even in the realm of humor and work to ensure that no one feels ostracized, discriminated against, or pressured to laugh at jokes they find unfunny or uncomfortable.

Final Thoughts

Bringing laughter to the workplace is not about hiring a humor coach or learning how to become a stand-up comedian. It’s about setting a positive, authentic example and creating the conditions for a lighthearted, fun environment to develop and flourish.

So, what are you waiting for? Go watch some funny cat videos and get to work!

Naomi Atkins is a Client Services Associate at Kadabra. When she’s not supporting the Kadabra team, she enjoys baking bread with her pandemic sourdough starter and trying to convince her kids that distance learning is SUPER fun.