In a nutshell

1. What is humour?

Humour in the workplace is a practical ethos that encourages enjoyment in employment. Humour will increase productivity, communication, teamwork, enthusiasm and staff retention, and help to create a healthy work-life balance. It will decrease stress levels, mediation, training time and recruitment costs.

  • It is more than telling jokes or forced frivolity.
  • A GSOH – good sense of humour – is a skill that can be cultivated and honed.
  • Individuals and organisations with better senses of humour display higher levels of tolerance – to each other and to workplace challenges.


2. The business case for humour

A recent survey of business leaders in 24 countries, found that the British captains of industry placed fun at work at a lower priority level than any other country. ‘Get your head down and get on with it’ has been the overriding workplace ethos. Meanwhile, Britain has the longest work-week in Europe and yet has the lowest level of productivity.

  • Without humour, stress levels soar, and stress absenteeism costs British business billions a year.
  • What seems fun to one person may cause offence to another, so humour in the workplace has had to evolve away from potentially offensive practices.
  • There are many rituals, ideas and skills which can safely be implemented – individually, within small teams, or throughout an organisation.
  • A business which does not invest in the well-being of its people, will instead be spending on recruitment and retraining.
  • Studies in accelerated learning show that when teaching is carried out with humour, more is retained and information is disseminated more quickly.


3. The healing benefits of laughter

Laughter gives the cardiovascular system and lungs such a good workout that three minutes of laughing will burn as many calories as ten minutes of aerobics.

  • The immune system is boosted as immunoglobulin A is released.
  • Cortisol, the adrenalin associated with stress, is neutralised and decreased.
  • Natural endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals, are released; these are anti–inflammatory and encourage muscle relaxation in the scalp, shoulders, arms, abdomen, legs and neck.
  • Blood pressure, an indicator of stress levels, is reduced after a laugh.


4. Laughtercise

Laughter is a physical exercise and can therefore easily be practised and repeated. It’s like a piano player who practises the scales so he can then play jazz, or like the athlete who trains at the gym and can then more easily run for the bus. So, now we have the practice of humourobics!

  • Start from neutral – relaxed and ready.
  • Smile and repeat this contraction of the muscles several times.
  • Allow the muscles around your eyes to contract at the same time.
  • Forehead muscles go up!
  • During humourobics, the jaw is relaxed and the lower lip goes down. This also encourages and allows deeper breathing.
  • Now make a series of short sharp ‘ehs’, simulating the sound of laughter until you drop on to real laughter.
  • Make yourself move.
  • Return to neutral and notice the difference in your tension, your breathing and your outlook.


5. Leave work behind

The inability to leave work behind, to shut off, is perhaps the greatest barrier to achieving a healthy work-life balance. It is one of the five top reasons sited for the current increase in stress.

  • The solution is simple: create a ritual that signifies the end of the working day and the beginning of the rest of life.
  • If you start thinking of work when you’re at home, repeat the ritual.
  • Enter a state of FUNN – Functional Understanding Not Necessary.


6. Develop a humour language

In-jokes and shared humour history create stronger teams. One way to do this is to develop hooks.

  • When something funny happens, retelling it is the beginning of developing a hook.
  • We must also recognise that by its very nature an in-joke will also exclude people.
  • The hook may be funny to begin with, but in time it becomes simply humorous – part of a shared happiness habit.
  • Humorous business terms can also be good hooks.


7. Joke telling

Humour in the workplace is not just about telling jokes. But it’s a good place to start. Shared laughter will build morale, rapport and a sense of team. It can provide a break in stress and re-energise an office.

  • In the workplace, it’s best to keep to jokes that make a point.
  • The telling of the joke/story should be funny in itself – don’t just rely on a punchline.
  • Don’t be afraid to poke a little fun at yourself, when it’s appropriate and makes a point.
  • Sometimes, having a funny moral to the story is a better alternative to a punchline.
  • Self trust and confidence in your material will simplify the delivery. If you are comfortable, odds are your audience will be too.
  • It is an important step to identify your own sense of humour: decide whose style of joke telling to model and then practise delivery and timing.


8. That’s not funny!

When humour goes wrong, and by its very nature it sometimes will, you must first identify the problem.

  • If it’s not funny – never apologise.
  • If it has offended – always apologise.


9. Quick ‘n’ quirky

Where there is humour, there is R–I–SK: Rituals – Ideas – Skills. There are many forms of fun, but the following ideas are comprised of tried-and-tested workplace activities that require little or no budget to implement. Implementation will best occur if your workplace has a Humour Officer or Fun Society who can oversee, gauge, and modify programmes:

  • Circulate jokes and cartoons
  • Keep a humour journal
  • Have theme days
  • Consider random acts of kindness
  • Laughtercise


10. Jokes, quotes and one liners

A joke can help you communicate better, build camaraderie and break tension. All you need is to have a few jokes up your sleeve.

  • A funny quote from someone famous can add both gravitas and levity to any occasion.
  • The subject matter and the characters are often changeable.
  • A joke will usually have a ‘victim’. Make sure it is a small ‘v’ victim – that the kidding or teasing will be well received. Decide if you want that victim to be you, or a specific group or person, or perhaps more generic, such as a profession.
  • Choose jokes that are about universal subjects – being late, speeding tickets, flat tyres...