Are We Having Fun Yet? Three Reasons for Humor at Work

by | Apr 11, 2017

Years ago, when I led an office at the Department of Transportation, we invested in a 360 assessment for the top managers and me. I looked forward to the results because I appreciate getting others’ perspectives.  Or at least I thought I did— until I got the results.  The results showed me as two different people. Seen through the eyes of my peers I was similar to how I saw myself.  But the view as seen through the eyes of my staff was not pretty. I learned that I was great at staying focused on achieving our goals…at all costs. However, the staff, through their scores, showed me that the office atmosphere was like a cattle drive (go, go and go until we get there). The staff craved attention, connection and a sense of family. Work just wasn’t fun. I suspect it isn’t just my office that’s like that. Fun is not at the top of the list of most work environments. And yet, research shows that humor is a powerful tool in the workplace. Here’s why.

  1. Task perseverance. Research indicates that humor provides the brain a respite that reenergizes it for the next task – even tedious tasks. Consider this research. In a study conducted by Australian National University management professors David Cheng and Lu Wang, they found that people who watched a funny video clip before a task spent approximately twice as long on a tiresome task compared with people who watched neutral or positive but not funny videos.[i] Would your office benefit from a two-time increase in persistence with just a short break to watch something humorous? It’s time to rethink a few minutes for a YouTube break.
  2. Morale boost. A good laugh feels good. It’s a simple as that. Laughter can make a long, arduous and stressful day a little less arduous and stressful.  Imagine what it would be like to have a joke of the day at staff meetings or funny video of the day. Within a few minutes, people are smiling and feeling reenergized.
  3. Feeling of connection. Laughing together creates a shared experience that fosters connection. I recall one of my staff meetings that happened shortly after the movie “Up” came out. In that animated movie the dog, Dug, is happily talking (yes, talking) to his new friend when he sees a squirrel that jerks his head to the side (Google it… you’ll laugh…promise… cross my heart). In the staff meeting, I described the scene and did an imitation of the “squirrel” moment. I wasn’t trying to be funny but I still remember the laughter. We felt like a team for that moment – all from sharing a good laugh.

What can you do to cultivate laughter in your office? Give a prize for the best joke; show a 2-minute funny video once a week; delegate humor to the staff to find and share?  What about sharing the silliest selfies? Use your imagination to find ways to bring a good laugh into the workplace.  You’ll reap the rewards of connection, improved morale and enhanced focus on work. And enhanced focus will help to guard against the next “squirrel” distraction!


[i] Cheng, D and Wang, L. (2015) Examining the energizing effects of humor: The influence of humor on persistence behavior. Journal of Business and Psychology, 30, 759-772.

Copyright: warrengoldswain / 123RF Stock Photo


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Author Byline: Founder and CEO of Blue Fjord Leaders, Shelley Row P.E. CSP, was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speakers. Professional engineer and former senior executive, she was recognized as one of the best minds in advanced traffic management systems.

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