Is your workplace having fun? As counterintuitive is it may seem, incorporating fun into the workplace can create a big boost in productivity. Indeed some of the most successful companies in the world are also some of the most fun places to work. Mind you, not every employer wants to follow Google's example and start an in-house bowling alley and "beer Fridays", but sharing a few laughs with your employees can make them healthier, happier and able to work harder.
So what are the benefits of laughing in the workplace? From a medical standpoint, laughter is a great way to increase blood flow and lower stress. Studies show that excessive stress weakens your immune system, and also increases the chance of blood clots. Studies also show that laughter can act as a "safety valve" for negative emotions - people overcome work pressure by sharing a laugh in the office.
According to Cultural Anthropologist Mahadve Apte, laughter can also help individuals to bond with one another. "Laughter occurs when people are comfortable with one another, when they feel open and free. And the more laughter there is, the more bonding occurs within the group." So having a laugh once in a while will help to build a strong team, as well as reduce conflicts by lowering tension within the group.
Interestingly though, studies have also shown that employers are more likely to laugh in the workplace than their employees, and when employees do laugh it's normally with their employer. As employers are in a position of power, they are the ones that set the mood for the rest of the group. As a leader, it's your responsibility to facilitate, or at least accommodate, a good mood in the workplace.
So how do you facilitate fun in the workplace? One good way is to hold team building activities. These activities can help your employees get to know each other better, and can also help to break up routine. Better still, engage a facilitator who can design activities that are fun, but have a work related learning outcome.
Celebrating people's birthdays and other special occasions is also great way to have a bit of fun and let people know they are appreciated. Having "casual clothes" Fridays creates a more informal setting in which your employees can get to know each other.
Have a think too about your leadership style. Leaders who put unrealistic pressures on people, who perhaps micro-manage or who are overly critical tend to create a high stress environment which discourages people from innovating and being creative. Instead, set a clear vision and direction then let your people develop a passion for their work, one that lets them be creative and puts them in control.
But above all, always make sure you're laughing with your employees, not at them. Employers are in a position of power, which means employees will feel less inclined to defend their position when made fun of, and may even laugh along. In the long-term, however, it will only heighten stress and negativity in the workplace.
Creating a fun and relaxed environment can help to boost productivity, innovation and long-term commitment. As a leader, being approachable and relatable is far more effective than distancing yourself from your employees, and sharing a laugh is a great way to do that.
Rosalind Cardinal is The Leadership Alchemist and Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, an Australian consultancy specializing in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organizations. You can interact with Ros, learn more about leadership and management, and download a complimentary copy of her e-guide on leading change at her website.