A sense of humour the best way to improve productivity in the workplace

Are you an office clown or do you eschew levity in the lunchroom for fear your idea of a joke may see you carpeted by HR for offending a colleague who doesn't share your sense of humour?

If you answered yes to the latter, then perhaps it's time to let your hair down a little – and not just because a laugh a day keeps the doctor away.

Laugh - and live - a little

Researchers from the University of Queensland Business School and Monash University say Aussie workers are up for more laughs in the workplace and that managers who encourage them will score a more motivated and productive workforce as a result.

Their recent survey of 400 employees from different backgrounds and organisations found almost all of them engaged in humour at work and enjoyed doing so. Yet, humour was only an occasional occurrence in 59 per cent of workplaces and widespread in just over a quarter, the survey found.

Positive climate change

Charmine Hartel, Professor of HR management and organisational development at UQ Business School, believes bosses who want to reap the benefits should try to create a 'humour friendly' culture, rather than waiting for the chuckles to break out spontaneously.

"When [humour] is used constructively it's building this positive emotional climate in the workplace," Hartel says. "It actually builds these high quality relationships, people feel more comfortable with each other, they feel like they belong, they feel that sense of inclusion.

"It's a great thing for supporting creativity and innovation and it also increases people's psychological capital, which is their sense of hope and optimism, their resilience, self- esteem and these have really powerful effects in the short term and [on] the sustainability of a very productive workplace."

But is encouraging people to have more laughs at work a practical goal for Aussie organisations and managers? Or can going out of your way to keep the troops entertained be more cringe-worthy than comical if you're not a natural jester?

Is it organic?

Best if the fun occurs naturally and not because it's mandated by management, says Zendesk sales director Rod Moynihan, who believes his predominately millennial team is an exemplar for enjoying yourself while you work.


"I think that generation relies on humour to drive communication and collaboration and openness," he says.

"What's interesting is they're acutely aware of the boundaries. They really, really understand the grey lines…They always know what's appropriate and what's not.

"Our office is open plan, everyone is sitting together, there's always healthy banter going on…I don't think as a group we have a conscious focus on trying to create humour [but]…we have a jovial culture and my sales meetings are always fun. There's laughter, there's banter, there's moments where you've just got to get serious and look at the numbers."

Fostering friendships

It's the same at our place, says Fluent Retail CEO Graham Jackson. No need for a 'more fun' policy – his team of 50 already has friendly joshing down to a fine art and it helps keep them happy to come to work.

"I think it gets very stale otherwise and people end up working from home without that kind of thing," Jackson says.

"I love to see people going for a morning coffee or for lunch or whatever together. That gives me great encouragement to see people choosing to spend time with one another and that makes people want to come into the office rather than doing so from home."  

Don't overdo it

Encourage appropriate humour but don't try to be Chief Fun Officer if you're not a life of the party type, people management specialist Karen Gately advises.

"[Australians] have the most highly developed BS detectors in the world so if somebody is not being authentic, often we'll call it try-hard; it has the opposite impact," she says.

"So if you're not naturally a funny person, don't try to be a funny person, it's more about…if you do have funny people in the office, give them some room to have a joke.

"I don't think the boss needs to be entertaining per se but it is about their own willingness to let their hair down at a tough time or to be a bit relaxed.

"We don't all need to be that stiff or buttoned up in the workplace and, in fact, if we are it really constrains people."

Keep it respectful

And while the the rise of political correctness may have left some folk uncertain about what they can and can't joke about, avoiding offence is simple enough, Gately adds.

"I can understand the nervousness but the way to stay out of trouble is to be respectful and kind," she says.

"If you're being respectful and kind and you're having a laugh with people, you're entirely unlikely to be in the danger zone."

Does your company encourage jokes in the workplace? Share your experience in the comments section below.