There's no shortage of tools and tactics available that supposedly to boost productivity in the workplace. But there's an often overlooked (and free) resource that can also prove to be extremely beneficial: good old-fashioned laughter. That's right, humor in the workplace can increase productivity and creativity, as well as promote physical and emotional health. Who doesn't want healthy, happy employees?

In the last few decades, many researchers have studied laughter's effects on the body. Their findings consistently indicate that it increases blood flow, boosts the immune system, reduces blood sugar levels, and contributes to healthier relaxation and sleep patterns. Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center have shown that laughter offsets the impact of mental stress and can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Yet another study at Loma Linda University School of Medicine shows that laughter appears to reduce serum levels of cortisol, dopac, and epinephrine. These stress hormones can certainly block creativity and reduce productivity levels so any opportunity to decrease them is beneficial not only to your health but also to your performance on the job. And believe it or not, laughing is great exercise! Dr. William Fry of Stanford University found that a good bout of laughter can burn as many calories as rowing intensely for 10 minutes.

There's even a study out of Canada's financial institutions finding that managers who most frequently used humor also had the highest level of employee performance. Who knew that laughter can increase the bottom line?

The Connection to Emotional Intelligence

We know that a high level of emotional intelligence is a trait found in most successful leaders. Deb DiSandro, an author and humorist who speaks widely on the power of humor in the workplace, notes that the ability to use and appreciate humor increases emotional intelligence because it intensifies positive emotion. Feeling blocked? Increased emotional awareness can unblock those creative arteries--so go ahead and have a good belly laugh.

But DiSandro also cautions that there are unhealthy humor styles that divide rather than promote positive interpersonal relationships. "Any humor that enhances the self or a group at the expense of others is unhealthy," she says. "You also don't want to over-use self-deprecating humor to an extreme because others may not take you seriously or value your opinion as a result."

Barring these negative approaches a great leader can use humor to diffuse a tense situation, boost morale, and improve productivity. "Don't be afraid to be a bit silly around your employees and peers," DiSandro adds. "In some of my presentations, I wear a doctor's outfit, carry a Fisher Price doctor kit and wear pink pig slippers. I let my audiences know that it's okay to be Slightly Off, on Purpose, and you can too!"

So how can you insert funny routines and other laughter-promoting traditions into your work culture? Introduce these simple twists to your approach and environment to reap the many benefits of humor has to offer.

Teach by example.

Don't take yourself too seriously all of the time. When you make small mistakes laugh at your own misstep. If employees are surrounded by intensity much of the time it will diminish their concentration and performance.

Bring laughter into your meetings.

Begin your weekly team meetings with a funny YouTube video or silly quote. Appoint an employee of the month to find something appropriate and loosen things up with a good laugh. Relaxed minds produce better results.

Design an environment that promotes creativity.

Line a wall with a huge white board or paint it with chalkboard paint. Encourage doodling and the sharing of a funny quote or picture on this dedicated wall. Doodling enhances creativity so use a wall that's accessible during meetings. An alternative to a dedicated wall is to provide construction paper and crayons at each meeting. These childhood reminders will certainly bring the fun side out of anyone.

Reward them with humor.

Promoting humor outside of the workplace will also benefit your employees. Purchase sets of tickets to an improv performance, a fun play, or even your local movie theater. Then either do random drawings or offer the tickets in recognition of an outstanding performance.

Bring entertainment to the workplace.

How about long-lunch Fridays where you can all view a funny movie or stand-up comedy routine on video? Laughing as a group creates camaraderie and bonding. The extra time taken will come back to you in creativity, commitment, and increased productivity levels.