The business case for humour

The business case is simple. Laugh all the way to the bank...

Creativity, morale, teamwork, enthusiasm, well being, good relationships (internal and external, staff and customer) are soft skills – all desirable, but all difficult to measure. These will be improved with increased humour, but it is difficult to justify workplace practices because ‘they feel good.’ To understand the bottom line implications and improvements, we must look at the facts and figures. Statistics that prove

People who have fun get more done.

All over the world, Britain is known for its stiff upper lip. This national characteristic is most prevalent in the workplace. 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. A fridge magnet saying springs to mind – ‘We work hard, but do we work smart?’

Apparently not.

Every business in the UK should consider that a happy workforce is tantamount to the success of that business.

Patricia Hewitt, Minister for Trade and Industry

Stress has become the number one reason behind sickness from work, overtaking the common cold as the biggest cause of absence. An average employee will take 6.4 days off for stress per year. This equates to £819 per year for those earning £22,000. This figure reflects lost wages only. There have been no comprehensive studies to evaluate the costs of lost revenue, mistakes that are made and the domino effect of stress on other employees. Estimates, however, put the cost of stress absenteeism to British business at double digit billions.

Furthermore, litigation may result if an employer is not seen to have made workplace practices that are stress preventative (for more on this, see Stress Management). The costs per claim range from £50,000 to £200,000 and are rising. In 1999, there were 515 stress claims; by 2000 this number had soared to 6,428. It has now started to level off, in part because The Health and Safety Executive has now put in place several regulations which must be implemented by employers. Humour techniques fit into these new HSE guidelines.


Humour reduces stress, and the duration of the absenteeism.

Risk and reward

Joke telling, practical jokes and once-popular activities, such as paint balling or go-carting, are subjective experiences: to some people they are fun, to others they are not. They run a high risk of offending or creating negative competitiveness.

Employment law presently sides with the offended – if you think there has been a slight, then there has, whether the other person meant to offend or not. Perceived offence is grounds for litigation.

Humour, therefore, with its subjective nature, can be a minefield. But the rewards far outweigh the risks. Health and bottom line, personal and professional – we all just want to have fun; we all just want to have funds.

Therefore the development of humour in the workplace has had to evolve to keep the fun but avoid offence. There are many rituals, ideas and skills which can safely be implemented – individually, within small teams, or throughout an organisation.

Knowledge is drained where there is attrition

High levels of staff turnover are another challenge in the present workplace climate. Unhappy employees are four times more likely to leave or burn out. A business which does not invest in the well being of its people will instead be spending on recruitment and retraining. Estimates put this expense at £3,000 – £16,000 per employee.


Happy staff = Loyal staff

If organisations are to compete in the ever-changing world of modern business, on-going training is a given. But training can be expensive – especially if the learnings are not retained.

Laughter is a lubricant to learning. It’s a proven fact that humour can reduce these costs. Studies in accelerated learning show that when teaching is carried out with humour, more is retained and information is disseminated more quickly. A study reported in the Harvard Business Review found that ‘humour hastens the spread of any message.’ There’s a simple scientific reason for this: both sides of the brain are in use when learners are happy. This causes open–loop circuits, making delegates more receptive.


A large insurance company sent its sales staff on seminars regarding the Strategic use of Humour. Over the next quarter, they reported an increase in sales of 44 per cent. People buy people; people buy people they like.

A call centre reported a marked increase in repeat customers after extensive training in ‘smiling down the phone.’

The bottom line is this: encouraging enjoyment in employment will cut costs and increase revenue.

You could also look at the topics on Stress Management, Customer Relations and Health & Safety.