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One Bug You Want Your Office to Catch

Scientists confirm what we always suspected: Not only is laughter contagious, but it also spurs bonding and innovation.

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As the leaves turn and the air gets colder, many of us look ahead with a mixture of excitement and a touch of dread. Sure, there's the holiday season to look forward to, but there's also the advent of coughing and sneezing as the latest cold or flu strain makes its way around your company.

Contagious usually equals unpleasant, but there's at least one bug you should encourage your team to pass around this fall. What is it? Laughter.

Sure, if you've paid attention to lived experience it's no huge shock that laughter begets more laughter, but now scientists have confirmed the fact in a recent theoretical study that explains not just why we laugh and why its contagious, but also why it's good to start an infection at your business.

According to the work by two business professors, laughter is catching in and to itself, so you're more likely to feel positive and crack a smile if you heard someone else laugh, whether of not you heard the joke or saw the prank that cracked them up. And this contagiousness has deeper positive effects on an office than simply lightening the mood, according to the a round up of the research on the British Psychological Society Occupational Digest

An instance of humor can lead to a longer-standing 'humor episode,' and it is these that lift mood and have an effect on interpersonal contact, deepening affection and also helping to shape group norms of what behavior is desirable--including 'humor is ok'. Hence, a positive feedback loop or wheel. Not every humor instance need be joy inducing; a wry comment can be sufficient to seed the ground and make it possible for other moments to follow.

Laughing sows the seeds of future happiness then, but it also helps bond your team. That alone sounds like a pretty good case for letting fly with more humor at work, but the study goes on to identify further reasons to let more humor into the sometimes straight-faced world of business.

Concurring with earlier research that shows sarcasm, despite it's sharp edge and ability to shame, actually encourages creativity, the authors find a link between innovative thinking and laughter. Humor, BPS, summarizes,

encourages us to approach opportunities rather than retreat: exploration and playfulness ensue, allowing us to build positive resources for the future…. as negative states can form their own feedback loops, humor can be valuable as a derailer - its disruptive, intrusive quality ringing out over frustration or fear.

Getting a 'humor wheel' going in regular work teams is clearly useful, and other contexts suggested by the authors include mentoring, where the importance of satisfying and informal relationships would naturally fit with humorous episodes, and also leadership, where leader affect is known to be contagious to employees.

You're serious about growing your company, but would replacing grim determination with a bit more levity actually be better for your business? 

 

Last updated: Oct 1, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.
@EntryLevelRebel




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