A laughing matter: The benefits of humor in the workplace

Remember those endless pranks that Jim played on Dwight in the beloved comedy The Office, like setting his stapler into a Jello mold, or when he gradually changed the weight of Dwight’s telephone so it eventually smacked him in the face when he picked it up? It turns out workplace humor (done in moderation and not usually to that extreme, of course) can have a host of benefits, from lowering employee stress to relationship building.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a good guffaw has some great short-term side effects including soothing tension, activating and relieving your stress response, and increasing the endorphins that are released by your brain. Beyond the physical perks of laughter, office humor is a surefire way to connect with colleagues.

“My grandfather was known to be a very humorous individual,” says Jayson Bowerman, grandson of storied Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman. “One of the things that my grandfather was really good at doing was getting to know people on a real, personal level, and deeply. I think one of the ways that he did that was through the use of humor to break down the walls that we put between ourselves.

“Humor is one of those ways that you can communicate ideas without necessarily having to be straight ahead.”

Jayson Bowerman, grandson of Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman

Jayson Bowerman, grandson of Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman

The benefits of humor in the workplace are so obvious that organizations like Nike have wisecracking pros take center stage during their team building events. One of their recent multi-day retreats organized by Global Sessions included activities from On Your Feet, a company that integrates principles from improv comedy to help bring employees together.

“A lot of times we’ll get to understand the dynamics of a group and we’ll bring that to life in an exaggerated, humorous way, and people get a huge kick out of watching the behavior that they know to be true for their team coming to life on stage,” explains Shelley Darcy, director of On Your Feet. “But it’s not laughter like ‘ha ha it’s so funny.’ It’s like ‘that’s so true! Oh my gosh we totally do that!’”

On Your Feet draws from years of stage experience to put together fun, engaging trust building exercises that get to the heart of issues their clients are working through, such as obstacles with communication and collaboration due to challenges like being based in different offices or heavy workloads. Darcy says their light-hearted tone typically makes it easier for people to open up, especially when it comes to tough topics like diversity or inclusion.

“Humor plays a big role in that work, because those are typically pretty heavy conversations and hard for some people to enter into, and we use humor as a way to break down the barriers to get into those conversations. So if you can make people laugh about something, they have a tendency to let their guard down a little bit more and be more open and willing.”

Shelley Darcy, director of On Your Feet

Shelley Darcy, director of On Your Feet

Those workplace shenanigans and ability to loosen up a bit also has the potential to boost your office standing. According to findings published in the Harvard Business Review, even a bad joke–provided it’s still appropriate–may increase how confident you appear to colleagues, while a well-executed one that gets lots of laughs can make you seem more competent and of higher status.

Adding an element of comedic relief is an approach that Global Sessions integrates into our custom-designed, inspired events–an ethos that starts within our own organization and the way we interact with clients.

“As just about anyone who has experienced one of our events will tell you, we are not straight-faced box checkers with spreadsheets and clipboards,” explains Adam Lapierre, an event producer for Global Sessions. “Our crew is infectiously enthusiastic, fun and funny, and our passion and positive energy inevitably rubs off on the people we work with. That in turn encourages people to relax, open up, connect and take in the impact of the experience we have created.

“We achieve that through lively and often quite funny activities that require people to work together, break out of their comfort zones and rely on one another for success.”

Those goofy antics have included the likes of Crazy Golf games using high-powered slingshots, rolling each other around in giant zorb balls, hurtling down 300 foot slip ‘n slides, and even outfitting CEOs in a Sasquatch suit. Those shared experiences are the gateway to an even more important goal, one that has lasting impacts within the companies we work with.

“Our deeper mission is to connect people, co-workers and teams in meaningful and lasting ways,” Lapierre explains. “From our experience, it’s often a lack of humor and personal connection in the workplace that degrades company culture the most. If we can be the spark that lights a fire for change, we have succeeded in our mission.”

Interested in a customized team building event for your organization? Fill out our Discovery Form, and we’ll be in touch with some ideas to help transform your team.