Feb 3, 2013

Employees Who Laugh, Last – personal and corporate benefits of laughter

Executives aren't exactly trading their horn-rimmed glasses and wingtips for Groucho noses and clown shoes, but they're not fooling with findings - from both the business and medical communities - that the employee who laughs, lasts.

Research shows that workers who enjoy on-the-job yuks are least likely to feel yucky about their jobs and are more productive, motivated, happier, and healthier than those who grimly keep their nose to the grindstone. Even in the executive suite - or actually especially there - possessing the right sense of humor is becoming increasingly important for job advancement.

"Americans, particularly those in business, have always placed a very high value on a sense of humor," says Robert Orben, a humor consultant who, nearly 30 years ago, sparked a new breed of consultants when he began teaching executives how to use humor effectively at the workplace (he's also served as director of President Ford's speech-writing department). "Maybe it's because business executives are under more constant low-grade stress than ever before - with no down time to look out at sunsets or listen to the birds. But humor has become a boom industry in the workplace because having a sense of humor, particularly in difficult situations, implies control. If someone is able to joke in a tough situation - and he's not a total buffoon - then the perception is that he has control of the situation. He has the answer. He can beat the problem."

One recent survey of 341 employees in a wide variety of occupations found that those who felt they had fun at work proved to be better performers than employees who were satisfied with their job but had less fun.

One source of fun at work is joking and using humor, says David J. Abramis, Ph.D., a psychologist at the School of Business Administration at California State University, Long Beach, who did the survey. "Essentially what I found is employees who had the most fun at work were more highly motivated workers," he says. "They were satisfied not only with their job but with their life in general." Several studies suggest that laughter can promote creativity. This may occur because humor allows people to be looser and perhaps less tense.

A hearty laugh is also great medicine for your body. When you laugh, the brain may be stimulated enough to pour out enkephalins and endorphins, brain chemicals that help reduce stress. Laughter stimulates the heart and lungs – temporarily increasing the heartbeat, contracting arteries, more thoroughly oxygenating blood, and even boosting production of immune cells. Some say that laughing can even provide a good massage to facial muscles, the diaphragm, the thorax, and the abdomen. When laughing stops, arteries and muscles relax, reducing blood pressure. Besides the obvious cardiac and circulatory benefits, scientists believe this few-second process also aids in digestion. Better yet, laughter and other positive emotions may even strengthen the body's natural defense system, making it more resistant to disease.

To a corporation, this can translate to happier, healthier, and smarter employees requiring fewer medical expenses and absences from work. "Not only are people who use humor more secure in their jobs, they may be more valuable," says John A. Jones, Ph.D., a University of Illinois researcher who has been studying the use of humor in the workplace since the 1970s. "There is considerable evidence to show that a sense of humor is an attribute of personality that people tend to remember and respond to very positively. And employers want that in their people. Everyone wants it." (Boost Your Brain Power, by Ellen Michaud, Russell Wild and the editors of Prevention Magazine)