Humor is an emotion that’s often left out and even avoided at work, but research increasingly shows that humor is a powerful, motivating, and inspirational thing. Utilizing and encouraging humor at work can inspire and entertain, build camaraderie, and drive team spirit, so that employees are happier and more productive. While it’s often something that cannot be forced, and something that must be used with respect, understanding how humor works to inspire employees will help you to leverage it across your organization.

Attracting Attention and Engaging Listeners

In “The Psychology of Humor”, two psychologists share how humor is one of the most powerful tools for driving engagement in listeners. Simply using humor during meetings and discussions brings levity, attracts attention, and keeps individuals more focused on what is being said. Here, the effect relates to building rapport with the listener, where individuals are more likely to trust and be willing to invest time in someone who has brought them a positive emotion (joy or laughter). Building rapport with listeners is a primary goal of nearly any manager or leader, because it is the easiest way to inspire, to drive engagement, and to get teams to be truly passionate about what they are doing.

At the same time, humor makes people more open to new ideas, more open to considering new perspectives, and less like they’re being forced to learn something. Taking a humoristic approach to messages that would normally spark arguments can also reduce them, simply because it’s difficult to switch from a positive emotion to disagreement.

Reducing Stress

Humor is proven to reduce stress, benefiting the nervous system and how people process and handle stress. Integrating humor into everyday work will eventually reduce stress by creating distraction, stimulating and relieving the stress response, relieving pain, and improving mood. Over time, consistent humor also works to improve personal satisfaction, resulting in individuals who are less stressed and more able to handle stress as it occurs. This will, in turn help individuals to stay inspired and engaged, because they’re in a better mood and better able to focus on and commit to what they are doing.

Creating Approachability

Approachable leaders are easier to work with, can help their teams more, and inspire individuals to be open and transparent about what they are doing. Creating a culture of approachability means that individuals will be more likely to engage with leaders, to listen to them, and to bring problems, questions, and even new approaches to them. This will create an environment where people are inspired to do their best and to create new solutions and ideas, because they can bring that higher up and receive recognition and credit for it.

Building a Culture People Want to Work In

While humor can impact nearly every level of work, its largest impact is on culture. If people feel safe and able to have fun with humor, you are building a culture that is pleasant to work in. While humor (obviously) has to be respectful of everyone involved and not at anyone’s expense, humor increases personal satisfaction, builds camaraderie, and helps people to enjoy being together. It also sparks creativity and inspiration, creating an environment that is actually pleasant to work in.

No matter what industry you work in, humor can be a valuable addition to your work floor. While you cannot force humor, and simply telling people to be funny won’t result in a real culture where humor can be effective, giving people room and hopefully examples to use humor as part of leadership and everyday work will have a positive impact across your organization.

About the Author: Jocelyn Pick