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Career Connexion 

  Taking humour seriously at work

Did you know that 200 laughs equal 10 minutes on the rowing machine and 10 minutes of laughter equal two hours of relaxing sleep? Studies show that when we laugh, the body’s natural pain killer, endorphins is released. Consequently, laughter energizes the body, lowers the blood pressure and strengthens the immune system.

Remember the hit movie “Patch Adams” in 1998? Dr. Hunter Patch Adams portrayed by actor Robin Williams in the film, is a real life medical doctor and clown. As a social activist, Adams has devoted 30 years of his life to changing America’s health care system which he describes as expensive and elitist. Believing that laughter, joy and creativity are integral to his patients’ healing process, he also believes that true health care must incorporate these components of life. What is truly inspiring about the story is that Patch Adams has devoted his life to the study of what makes people happy.

Using laughter and humour applies to the workplace as well. Several studies found that having a good laugh at work can do wonders for an employee’s job satisfaction and performance. According to researcher Maren Rawlings of the Swinburne University of Technology, upon the survey of 300 workers from 20 different countries, she found that higher levels of positive humour in the workplace are correlated with greater job satisfaction. In another study conducted by the California State University, it was found that humour aids in releasing tension helping employees be more productive and concentrate on their work more efficiently. Dr. Ashton Trice, a Psychologist at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia showed that humour actually helps us think. For example, when people feel angry and depressed because they feel stuck on their projects, their negative mood can interfere with performance. According to this research, taking time to laugh can decrease feelings of negativity, hence increasing performance.

So, how do we utilize humour at work? When we say “humour in the workplace”, one must know the difference between inappropriate humour and healthy humour. Playing practical jokes on co-workers, making fun of the company or making jokes about how people look or talk are not considered as healthy humour. Two years ago, I attended an HR conference in Calgary and learned from the keynote speaker, David Granirer that you don’t have to be funny to apply humour at work. Psychocomic and therapist Granirer defines humour in the workplace as “acts involving some sort of surprise and/or exaggeration that make people feel good”. Simple acts like leaving a cookie on a co-worker’s desk or giving an unexpected compliment are all considered as forms of humour that leave people feeling good. As an example of exaggeration, when David worked at the Vancouver Crisis Centre, he used to carry around a gorilla mask and when things got too stressful, he would put on the mask and walk around the building. That act of “surprise and exaggeration” left people with a smile and feeling of relief from tension and stress.

The most revolutionary act one can commit in our world is to be happy.” ~ Patch Adams

Laughing Your Way to Organizational Health: Getting the Laughs You Need (David Granirer, MA)
Humour in the workplace (Innovative Leader, Vol. 6, #5, 1997);
Lighten Up: Humour in the Workplace (  

Michele Majul, BA (Psych) is an HR Professional with Canada Post in Prairie Region.


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