A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
In an article published by the University of Kentucky, studies confirmed there is some truth in the saying “Laughter is the best medicine” and that “Studies from around the world have shown that an atmosphere of humour results in better patient cure, less anesthesia time, less operating time, and shorter hospital stays. It gives examples of some of the researched benefits of laughter;
• Blood Pressure – People who laugh heartily, on a regular basis, have a lower standing blood pressure than does the average person. When people have a good laugh, initially the blood pressure increases, but then it decreases to levels below normal.
• Hormones – Laughter reduces at least four of the neuro-endocrine hormones associated with stress. These are epinephrine, cortisol, dopamine, and growth hormone.
• Immune System – Clinical studies by Lee Berk at Loma Linda University have shown that laughter strengthens the immune system by increasing infection-fighting antibodies.
• Muscle Relaxation – Belly laughs result in muscle relaxation.
• Pain Reduction – In 1987, Texas Tech psychologist Rosemary Cogan used the discomfort of a pressure cuff to test the medical benefits of laughter on pain management. Subjects who watched a 20-minute comedy routine could tolerate a tighter cuff than those who had watched an informational tape or no tape at all.
• Brain Function – Laughter stimulates both sides of the brain to enhance learning. It eases muscle tension and psychological stress, which keeps the brain alert and allows people to retain more information.
• Respiration – Laughter empties your lungs of more air than it takes in, resulting in a cleansing effect – similar to deep-breathing. This deep breathing sends more oxygen-enriched blood and nutrients throughout the body.
• The Heart – Laughter, along with an active sense of humor, may help protect you against a heart attack, according to a study at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
• A Good Workout – Laughter can provide good cardiac, abdominal, facial, and back muscle conditioning, especially for those who are unable to perform physical exercise.
• Mental and Emotional Health – Humour and laughter are a powerful emotional medicine that can lower stress and dissolve anger
It appears there is a good case to be made for engaging our sense of humor in all aspects of our lives. However, not everyone shares the same sense of humour. So, how can we encourage humor in the workplace and ensure that it is used appropriately?
In his book, “The Humor Advantage”, speaker and author, Michael Kerr endorses the importance of humour in the workplace; ‘Having a sense of humor in the workplace is not about telling jokes, being a stand-up comedian, or being the office clown. It’s not about being an extrovert or practicing fake enthusiasm. It’s not even always about being funny (I can already hear you sighing with relief). Having a sense of humor is about adopting a spirit of playfulness and fun. It’s about appreciating the incongruous events and absurd moments that flitter by us every day. It’s about embracing a sense of balance, a sense of perspective, and a sense of humanity. And like our other senses, humor is a way of interpreting and filtering the events in the world around us.”
Kerr emphasizes the fact that he is not promoting any behaviour that might be construed as unprofessional, but that being “professional” does not mean that we need to “ downplay or even banish any semblance of fun and humor at work. Having a sense of humor is also about being authentic. After all, rarely are we more real than when we laugh. We are never more human than when humor shatters the professional masks we sometimes wear to reveal the true human being lurking beneath the corporate façade. This is likely why studies show a positive correlation between humor and trust: We tend to trust people more when we sense they are the real deal, and humor helps us appear more vulnerable and more genuine. He goes on to say “humor is a comfort, a catalyst, and a connector that any front line employee, sales rep, leader or even CEO, can include in their toolkit to help them achieve better results. And it’s a powerfully effective way to inject some life into your business brand that will help your business stand out from the herd to be heard like never before.”
In business, a good sense of humour might give you an advantage. In his article, Making Sense of Humour in the Workplace, on the Canada One website, Steve Bannister tells us that “Many businesses are now beginning to realize that the punch line can benefit the bottom line. Robert Half International, an executive recruitment firm, conducted a survey of 1,000 executives and discovered that 84 percent of respondents felt that workers with a sense of humour do a better job. Another survey by Hodge-Cronin & Associates found that of 737 CEOs surveyed, 98 percent preferred job candidates with a sense of humour to those without. Employers are looking for the same characteristics which are inherent in those people who have a good sense of humour, namely; more creativity and productivity, fewer absentees and sick days, and better decision-making capabilities.
In his view, the essence of developing a good sense of humour is not taking yourself too seriously and keeping a positive attitude. Bannister explains what he calls “The Four Senses of Humour” and illustrates thepros and cons of using the various types;
1. Self-Deprecating Humour - Poking fun of oneself can provide a much needed relief from tense situations. Conversely, an excess of this type of humour may make other people uncomfortable and lead to serious low self-esteem issues.
2. Put-Down Humour - This type of humour involves teasing, sarcasm and ridicule and it tends to be a popular form of humour around the water cooler. If aimed at politicians, actors etc. it is harmless and can help to form social bonds, although if aimed at fellow workers, it can become a form of social aggression.
3. Bonding Humour - People who exhibit bonding humour are generally fun to be around. They tell funny jokes, lighten the mood and partake in witty banter. Bonding humour can either provide a sense of togetherness or it can isolate individual employees.
4. Observational Humour - Observational humour is the healthiest of all of the four types. People who use this type of humour have a unique outlook on life. They are always able to see the bright side of things and they don't take themselves too seriously. This enables them to deal more easily with daily stress in their life at work and at home. Observational humour is the only type of humour which can be enjoyed alone. As a result, studies linking humour with health have tended to concentrate on this type of humour.
Bannister then goes on to give advice for using appropriate types of humour, in the workplace;
- Suffocate sarcasm - It has too much potential to be taken the wrong way in a work environment.
- Justify your jokes - Don't just memorize the latest joke making the rounds on email. Tailor your jokes to the individual and keep them clean.
- Be frugally funny - Making a funny comment to diffuse tension during a meeting is a great idea, but don't overdo it.
- Join a friendly neighbourhood - Hang around funny friends. Spend time with those who are upbeat and avoid negative people whenever possible.
- Giggle with the gang - You can be seen as having a great sense of humour without ever telling a joke. Just listen to those around you and share in their laughter.
- Get with it - Remind yourself to have fun every day. Place humorous cartoons and quotes in your personal workspace.
- Partake in periodic personal putdowns - This can put others at ease and you don't risk offending anyone. Be sure to keep a light mood and don't make it a habit.
Why not try to find ways to integrate humour into your working day? It could be of benefit to you and your colleagues in all manner of ways, as long as it is used appropriately.