Many of us have worked there at one point or another. That place where the faces are stern and the atmosphere unfriendly. Professionalism is taken to such an extreme, we forget or afraid to bring our humanity to work.
Part of the restriction we place on ourselves in these sterile professional settings is suffocating our own sense of humor. As it turns out, the latest workplace research alerts us that curbing our natural ability to produce laughter may be a big mistake.
Humor is serious business
Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Jennifer Aaker and lecturer Naomi Bagdonas, who co-teach a class at Stanford's business school called Humor: Serious Business, say most of us are hilarious as kids growing up all the way through high school. "We're killin' it on a daily basis," says Aker in this interview.
Then, about the time we enter the workforce, around age 23, we stop being funny. We fall off a "humor cliff" -- both in laugh frequency and what we think is funny for the workplace. Seriously, have we gotten that boring? Apparently so.
Aaker and Bagdonas would like to see this problem reversed and help stale and dreary organizations inject more humor into their culture. But what gives?
Humor, it has been found, works as a powerful strategy for increasing employee retention, reducing workplace stress, and improving problem solving with innovative solutions.
Bagdonas calls humor "an underleveraged superpower in business." And the reason it works so effective is because the very act of laughing sparks the release of oxytocin, that feel-good hormone that enables social bonding, improves relationships, and increases trust.
She says, "I noticed that something powerful happens when groups laugh together at work. Façades drop, conversations deepen, and trust forms more quickly and meaningfully."
Akers adds, "Humor is our most powerful tool to drive fear out of the system. In this context, lack of humor can be a huge liability. [W]e think that humor brings humanity and empathy back into business in a way that's rare."
In one notable study by psychologists Alan Gray, Brian Parkinson, and Robin Dunbar, they had participants watch either a funny or neutral video clip before engaging in a self-disclosure exercise with a stranger. As you may have guessed, participants who watched the funny clip disclosed 30 percent more personal information versus those who watched the neutral clip. What
Now imagine the possibilities of releasing more humor for collaboration and competitive advantage. When people are allowed to be themselves, joke and laugh together at work -- even at each other's expense -- magic happens. From a productivity standpoint, it appears like a no-brainer. Now, if only we could convince HR leaders and other strict policy makers.