Humor and Fun in the Workplace

Humor and Fun in the Workplace
by Mary Rau-Foster

“The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that is laughter. The moment it arises, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.” — Mark Twain

Did you know that …

  1. The average pre-schooler laughs or smiles 400 times a day? Or that the number drops to only 15 times a day by the time people reach age 35?
  2. People smile only 35 percent as much as they think they do?
  3. Laughter releases endorphins, a chemical 10 times more powerful than the pain-relieving drug morphine, into the body with the same exhilarating effect as doing strenuous exercise?
  4. Every time you have a good hearty laugh,you burn up 3 1/2 calories?
  5. Laughing increases oxygen intake, thereby replenishing and invigorating cells? It also increases the pain threshold, boosts immunity, and relieves stress.


Sit with children as they play and you will hear a joyful sound: the sound of laughter. Children can be counted on to make fun even out of unpleasant work. What do they know that we have forgotten? They know how to laugh. They know how to add a dimension of playfulness to boring chores. Make a mental survey of people that you find uplifting and fun to be around. What is the common denominator? They know how to laugh and how to have fun. Can laughing and having fun on the job make a difference in the way we do our jobs? Absolutely!

A survey by Hodge-Cronin & Associates found that of 737 CEOs surveyed, 98 percent preferred job candidates with a sense of humor to those without. Another survey indicated that 84 percent of the executives thought that employees with a sense of humor do a better job than people with little or no sense of humor.

Dr. David Abramis at Cal State Long Beach has studied fun at work for years. He’s discovered that people who have fun on the job are more creative, more productive, better decision-makers, and get along better with co-workers. They also have fewer absentee, late, and sick days than people who aren’t having fun.

The benefits to a pleasant and happy workplace are that happy employees are more loyal and productive employees. The absenteeism and tardiness rate may decrease as people look forward to going to work. The turnover rate may decrease, as employees feel content and loyal to an organization. And the cost associated with illness may decrease as people experience the positive physiological and psychological effects of laughter.

Can the benefits to having fun be measured? Yes, by comparing the absenteeism, tardiness, and turnover rates pre-program implementation. In addition, an employee satisfaction survey can reveal how employees feel about their jobs, the company, and company culture. Will your customer complaints decrease as they encounter happier employees?

Company activities can teach employees how working together as a team can be fun and productive. Some of the competitive natures can work itself out on a co-ed field. In addition, managers or supervisors can be seen also as team players, who can relax and enjoy life and others as well. Company-planned or approved activities can go far in cultivating a positive corporate culture.

The use of fun and humor in the workplace must be appropriate in nature, when and how it is used. The humor should not be offensive to the ordinary or reasonable person. It is meant to encourage people to see the absurdity in our thought processes, perceptions, behaviors. It is also a useful tool that can be used to help us lighten up and not take things so seriously. It can also effectively reduce the level and intensity of conflict among employees, if properly used.

So, how do you implement and maintain (with an emphasis on maintenance) a humor and fun program? Is it going to be costly in terms of resources, including money, time, and productivity? It does not have to be a costly undertaking. However, even if there is some expenditure associated with “fun-at-work” activities, the benefits may be multi-fold in terms of the reduction of cost associated with absenteeism, turnover, and decreased productivity.

Six Reasons that fun can improve work quality and mental health:

  1. Fun breaks up boredom and fatigue
  2. Fun fulfills human social needs
  3. Fun increases creativity and willingness to help
  4. Fun fulfills the need for mastery and control
  5. Fun improves communication
  6. Fun breaks up conflict and tension


Fun at work can even lead to alleviation of the inevitable boredom that arises out of dull, routine, and non-challenging tasks. Even schools recognized the importance of giving children recess breaks so that they might have the opportunity to have fun.

The inability to laugh may be a sign of impending burnout (see May 2000 column). When it is no longer possible to find humor in anything, it may be that the employee is in the throes of burnout.

The desire to feel good, to change a mood, or even to loosen up a bit, is the reason that many people turn to alcohol or even legal or illegal drugs. However, there is no way that any man-made substance can be as powerful as the endorphins that the body produces for free, without any side-effects.

Norman Cousins, brought to our attention how laughter can be healing or reducing symptoms. You may recall that he had a serious and painful illness. He discovered that 10 minutes of laughter could lead to one hour that was pain-free.

Laughter releases endorphins that are more powerful than morphine. These endorphins can lead to a sense of well-being and optimism. In addition, humor and laughter can even bridge the gap between total strangers. The use of humor can even reduce tension in a tense situation (as workplaces can sometimes be).

Who said that fun and work were mutually exclusive? Have we unknowingly incorporated the quote used in exercise “no pain, no gain” to the workplace? Is work meant to be stifling and boring? Let’s hope not, because boredom can give rise to burnout.

Boredom arises from rote and repetitive tasks. It can also rise out of the failure to have opportunities to be creative. Lawyers deal with it — drafting and reviewing contracts. The front desk receptionist who answers the phone all day — the computer programmer who is discouraged from using his or her creativity in programming. Having some boredom-breaking activities can lead to greater creativity and a tolerance for carrying out tedious repetitive tasks.

Can businesses successfully implement an employee-friendly and fun environment? Isn’t it dangerous? There are two examples that come to mind that demonstrate just how successful these efforts can be. SouthWest Airlines has departed from the typical approach to passenger service and has been rewarded for it. The flight attendants were named number one among the flight attendants of all the airlines.

The SWA flight attendant uniform is casual and not at all like other airlines. In addition, they are encouraged to use humor in their customer service — which the passengers seem to appreciate (this one in particular.) Does the playfulness of the attendants impact their credibility with the passengers? Apparently not, as evidenced by the laughter and positive comments that follows some humorous remarks by the attendants. And this from a no-frills airline.

Other companies have also recognized that happy employees are productive employees. Autodesk, a California-based software company, has implemented an unusual bring-your-animal-to-work program. The company recognized that employees would happily work the long hours that are sometimes required if they can have their animal companions with them. Of course, there are conditions and expectations that accompany the program.

SWA and Autodesk are but two of the many large companies that recognized the importance of creating a fun environment. That is not to say that other companies will implement a bring-your-animal-to-work program. However, there are many other ways to create an environment that is pleasing to employees.

Bring out that ability to laugh, dust it off, and go for the gold… the golden sounds of someone enjoying himself or herself. You may ask “What if I make a fool of myself?” That may happen, but you will be in great company. There is something magical about someone who is so confident that he or she will take the risk of being misunderstood or criticized by some negative Neal or Nellie. There is also something magical about a company that has the ability to see that happy and laughing employees are good, productive, and loyal employees. This magic can be transformed into a productive and financially profitable workplace environment.

Please Note: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not the intent of Mary Rau-Foster to render legal advice. If legal advice is required, you should seek the services of a competent lawyer.

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