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Laughter is the best medicine for employee engagement

If you think back to your childhood days they were probably filled with giggling, laughter, chatter and fun. It was a time when your greatest concern was whether to have fish-fingers or pizza for tea and your biggest conflict was with your parents and what time you had to go to bed.

Fast-forward to today and that joyful, care-free attitude is probably a distant memory. Since making our voyage into adult hood and becoming working men and women, a [hypothetical] ‘serious’ switch has been flicked – something that’s made apparent when we pass through the threshold of work: the place where all too often we become stern, unemotional and won’t frequent in laughter or social engagement.

It may sound like an extreme interpretation, but the idea is not far from reality. When at work, most of us believe that we must be serious in order to be taken seriously. Why? The reason is two-fold:

1. We have a fear of being seen as [insert name here] “the joker” which will threaten our professional position and career progression.

2. Historically the workplace has been seen as a place ‘to get the job done’; with employers and employees taking the view that if work isn’t a toil we simply aren’t working hard enough.

The truth is that this style of thinking and working is out dated. Research proves that an absence of laughter in the workplace is a major contributor to workplace stress; one of the most common causes of long-term sickness absence in UK workplaces today (according to CIPD), which costs the UK economy around £8.4billion every year1.

The power of laughter at work

The time has come to revert back to our childhood tendencies. Let’s take laughter and embrace it. Let’s use its power in the workplace to transform it into a place of positivity, productivity and engagement. Why? Laughter is a powerful tool which can achieve astounding results for businesses. Research conducted in 2002 for an industry-wide study of 2,500 employees found that 93% believed laughter on the job helped them to reduce work-related stress2.

That said laughter is much more than a tonic to reduce stress. Laughter is in fact a product of humour and instilling it at work creates a positive environment that builds bonds between colleagues, encourages positive and innovative thinking; creates better communication and eliminates negative attitudes. The result of which is increased productivity and profitability.

Creating a place of humour

Before getting carried away with the concept of humour and laughter at work, there is some small print that you should be made aware of... Using humour certainly won’t suit every organisation and should never be used as a quick fix for employee engagement problems.

For humour to flourish, an environment needs to exist that employees feel welcome, comfortable, and relaxed within. This will then naturally inspire people to express themselves - from which humour will organically grow and with it so will laughter.

Alongside this, organisations need to create and embrace play and playfulness in the workplace – something which may be a daunting prospect for some, but something that Lisa Sturge, Director of Laughterlines Coaching says is imperative: ‘playfulness initiates laughter and negates the need to understand the joke. It encourages people to be freer with their minds and bodies which again can help with stress relief and creative ideas’.  

Once the right environment exists, the key is ensuring it is maintained and that the fine line between appropriate and inappropriate humour, laughter and playfulness isn’t crossed – something which can only be avoided through use of common sense and effective management.

Those that are laughing loudest

Some examples of how the world’s largest organisations are wholeheartedly embracing playfulness, humour and laughter: 

1. Deloitte & Touche

This company’s belief is that too many hours are spent at work for it not to be fun. Deloitte and Touche therefore embark on laughter initiatives that encourage a more collaborative, supportive, inclusive and entrepreneurial environment – creating a culture that is about ‘enjoying each other, being passionate about what you do, and having fun while you do it!’3.

2. NHS Tayside

This NHS body has recently undertaken laughter initiatives to support their health and wellbeing policies. By training key employees on using laughter in the workplace, the body aims to use these individuals as advocates for laughter at work and spread the idea across the organisation: “[the] programme is aimed at all staff to address issues that affect staff health, wellbeing and safety. It also encourages health boards to work collaboratively, both within and out with the sector, to develop innovative and effective ways of maximising staff potential”4.

3. Ben & Jerry’s

This well-known ice cream manufacturer uses humour in its daily routine by having a committee that arrange monthly activities to reinforce the value of humour at work.

Such initiatives have enabled them to“discover that the punch line is not that far from the bottom line…[and that] if you want to get more out of your employees, make sure that they are having a good time at work”5.

4. South West Airlines

This US airline strongly endorses the importance of fun at work; from looking for a sense of humour in prospective employees, to presenting organisational results via rap music and videos. This is one organisation that wants ‘its employees to take their jobs seriously but not themselves’6.

5. Others that are embracing laughter

Whilst some organisations embark on full blown humour and laughter initiatives, it doesn’t have to be that direct. Sometimes simply instilling subtle humour is enough. IBM, Apple and Yahoo do this by naming their meeting areas obscure names e.g. ‘We are meeting in Rio de Janeiro’ (IBM) OR ‘Do you want to meet at Frogs or Locusts’ (Yahoo)7.

Embarking on a journey of laughter

The way we work today has taken a dramatic shift. We are now working longer and harder than ever before and yet we still maintain a view of work that is better suited to the 1950’s. Work should no longer be seen as ‘toil’ and a ‘means to an end’ – we spend far too much time at work for it to be that.

Creating an environment where humour – and laughter – is viewed positively will create a place of enjoyment. It’s this enjoyment that will create a more productive, more efficient work force where everybody will feel more engaged with the business.



Want to find out more?

We're holding a morning laughter workshop on Tuesday 26th June where you can discover why laughter is one of the most powerful tools for achieving employee engagement today. Find out more here.


[1]http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/joepublic/2011/dec/19/mental-health-at-work
[2]http://think.stedwards.edu/business/sites/think.stedwards.edu.business/files/u209/Humor%20in%20the%20Workplace.pdf
[3]http://think.stedwards.edu/business/sites/think.stedwards.edu.business/files/u209/Humour%20in%20the%20Workplace.pdf
[4]http://www.thecourier.co.uk/Community/Health/article/18655/nhs-tayside-sending-staff-on-350-a-head-laughter-courses.html
[5]http://www.thecourier.co.uk/Community/Health/article/18655/nhs-tayside-sending-staff-on-350-a-head-laughter-courses.html
[6] http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb6698/is_1_67/ai_n28904788/
[7]http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb6698/is_1_67/ai_n28904788/pg_3/?tag=content;col1


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About the author

Siobhan Hammond is Director of Client Services at BergHind Joseph.

With over sixteen years’ experience in employee engagement solutions Siobhan has significant experience of working with companies to help deliver results; and is passionate about helping companies improve their overall performance and productivity through their people.



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