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Laughter and Compliments in the Workplace: Healthy Brain Exercises Needed More Now Than Ever!

Updated: Jun 20

Smiley faces reflect a team's self-confidence and trust when engaging in laughter and compliments with one another
Laughter and compliments in the workplace drive greater employee productivity and engagement

Times are tough. The presidential election, inflation, tornadoes/hurricanes/wildfires and other natural disasters, gun violence, border concerns, women’s fertility rights, artificial intelligence, and so much more has us all sitting on edge. And workers can’t simply leave these feelings of angst and insecurity at the door when they walk into the office or onto the shop floor every morning. The best solution may be the simplest and, better yet, it’s free--laughter in the workplace.

Laughter. Seriously. Humor drives camaraderie, teamwork, and trust better than just about anything else. And when workers feel comfortable in their skin and supported by one another, they perform at a higher level naturally. They say “Laughter is the best medicine” for a reason. A healthy workplace culture known for humor and lightheartedness produces incredible benefits, including:


  • Creating an atmosphere of levity and a sense of perspective that can dissolve tension and, in turn, protect us from stress at work and improve our physical and mental health.


  • Keeping your team connected and bonded, especially when you’re facing challenging times, so that people are more inclined to have others’ backs. 


  • Making team members more open to change, as the very act of laughing releases feel-good chemicals that enhance concentration and creativity.


  • Driving greater innovation because workers who relax around each other and benefit from a playful culture are less concerned about making mistakes and open to taking risks—a foundation for finding more creative and innovative solutions.


Spiking the Humor Factor


A hint of self-deprecating humor can also be a useful tool for leaders and other employees to make themselves more approachable. In fact, when leaders and employees share a certain level of self-effacing banter, employees tend to gain even more professional respect for leaders—a counterintuitive finding for leaders who are afraid to show weakness. Moreover, research suggests that people who engage in more conversational humor with colleagues feel happier and experience higher job satisfaction. But how do you incorporate humor into the corporate world? Many of the ideas below will depend on your own personality and willingness to adopt a broader spirit of fun, but here are some places to start:


  1. Smile: That’s it, and it’s that simple. Ask your team to just smile more. That’s an order.

  2. Set up Eat & Greets: Start a lunch bunch and get out for a daily walk or watch your favorite TV show (especially The Office, which might make for parallel laughter).

  3. Organize a Happy Hour with your co-workers once a week or twice per month.

  4. Play Tell the Truth: Gather trivia about the people on your team; send out a mapping and matching quiz to see who can correctly guess all of the matches.

  5. Picture ThisPhotoshop pictures of your team onto a picture of superheroes or celebrities.  Use these avatars in all your PowerPoint presentations.

  6. Get Cartoony: Start a cartoon board and post some funnies for all to enjoy (Dilbert, anyone?).

  7. Showcase Your Kids and other family members: Create a “Look at what my kid made!” or “Could you imagine my kid did this?” mural for staff members to share their kids’ creations and peccadillos

  8. Learn a New Language: If you work internationally, learn a few words and phrases of a language of one of your clients; surprise your team with it in your next meeting.

  9. Learn More English:  Pick a word of the day or week, make sure it’s obscure and esoteric, and ask everyone to create a funny sentence using it.

  10. Be Creative: Brainstorm your own unique way of bringing humor to work. It’s worth the added effort.


The Importance of Compliments


Compliments likewise activate the rewards center of the brain and bolster people’s spirits. Further, laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which reduce stress hormones like cortisol. People feel better both giving and receiving compliments, so cultivate a healthy achievement mindset by sharing messages like these with your team and asking them to do the same:


1.     You handled that situation so well just now. Great job!

2.     I’m really impressed with your ability to work under pressure. You seem to step up when it’s needed most.

3.     I love the way you bring out the best in people and you found a happy solution to that issue just now.

4.     Great catch and do tell. . . How did you save that account so the rest of us can learn from you?

5.     I really enjoy working with you. You’ve got a killer work ethic but never forget the people element in any of your dealings with others.


Remember, your goal in your current leadership role is to help your staff members do their best work every day with peace of mind. The best way of doing so lies in helping people build their self confidence. Stronger self-confidence, combined with a greater sense belonging and inclusion, drives greater discretionary effort. And from that willingness to go above and beyond, people typically feel like they're at the top of Maslow's hierarchy or otherwise firing on all cylinders. From there, their sense of teamwork, collaboration, accountability, and creativity and innovation soar.

Laughter in the Workplace and Remote Team Application

Note that many of these exercises work particularly well for remote teams. Presentations and meetings are great opportunities for you to add a little entertainment value to keep your team engaged. With an increasingly distributed and global workforce, virtual team building activities have become an important measure for cultivating camaraderie and boosting motivation amongst remote employees. And with remote work here to stay (at least to some degree in some form or another), managing the needs of a remote team is basically equal to managing the needs of the future workforce. In an increasingly technical and digital world, the need for human connection has never been greater.

Laughter at Work: A New Way Forward

Are laughter and compliments all it takes to trigger the chain of events that lead to top performance and fuller engagement? Of course not. There are multiple elements and considerations that go into creating the "magic formula" where employees and teams excel and perform at their highest levels. But interestingly enough, laughter and a lighter atmosphere contribute to people feeling at ease, trusting those around them more, and generally feeling like they're making a positive difference at work while building their own professional skills. Making laughter and compliments part of your company's, department's, or team's culture costs nothing. And the good news is you can model this yourself, both by your actions and by your discussions with your team. Let laughter and compliments get you and your team to top performance much faster as your key strategic leadership tool.

For more information on Paul's books, please visit his #HarperCollinsLeadership author page at Consulting Services

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