A Jubilant Workplace Atmosphere May Not Always be Right, But it Offers Definite Advantages for Many
Have you heard the one about the business that kept everyone laughing? The punchline is that it was more productive, and it attracted more customers. You have to proceed with a degree of caution, of course; keep the funny stuff politically correct and avoid humor when it’s simply not the right time for laughter.
Still, if the time and situation are right, here are some thoughts on how your business might benefit from occasional merriment.
A Little Fun Improves Employee Output and Longevity
The common phrase, serious business probably wraps up why people generally think that they have to be somber within the workplace. Work is supposed to be about making money, not having fun.
Granted, banks go to great lengths to ensure that customers view employees as all-business individuals who are totally focused on protecting everyone’s money. This is good (except that I make it a point to make tellers laugh every time that I go in with a transaction, but I guess that’s another story). Unless you run a funeral parlor or other somber business, your employees may do things better and more quickly if they get some extra enjoyment from their work days — especially the inevitable long ones.
One study showed that, given a boring job to do, subjects of an experiment who were shown funny videos worked twice as long as those who watched nature and business management subject matter. In theory, the short mental break revitalized them, and made them more engaged in their work, as well.
You also have to consider how fun can help you retain employees, particularly now that the unemployment rate is at record lows. Employees who establish valued co-worker friendships are more reluctant to seek new opportunities elsewhere. And, those friendships develop more quickly when team members work in a culture that places some priority on fun.
So, don’t encourage a no-talking atmosphere, and laugh along with them when you catch them taking a break watching some funny cat videos. Plan enjoyable outside activities; a visit to a local G-rated comedy club is not out of the question, but even an impromptu lunchtime picnic can provide a little respite while cementing relationships between employees and management, as well.
One warning: make sure that attendance is optional. I don’t recall getting much enjoyment out of required attendance at a professional baseball game on the day before a major deadline. I had to take my computer home that night.
Make A Customer Laugh, and You Might Make a Friend
If you’ve ever tried your hand at making cold sales calls, then you know the discomfort that you and your targets feel when facing unfamiliar people. Well-done levity can convert strangers into friends, and it can be appropriate during sales presentations, within your marketing strategy, and while collaborating on a consulting project.
Naturally, picking the right time for humor — and deciding if it’s appropriate at all — requires pinpoint judgement based on the industry and the personality of any given customer. When used properly (while avoiding absolutely anything that can be seen as offensive), it can help create lifelong relationships with your customers. In the wrong hands, however, it can send customers running to more sensitive vendors.
Unfortunately, no classes can truly teach you and your employees how to avoid stepping over some potentially serious boundary lines, and practice might not make perfect when joking is involved. Before taking your act live, you might want to try some role playing activities with a variety of test targets. If anyone takes offense, then keep practicing, or find other ways to create relationships without coming to blows.
Fun Can Be Work-Related, Too
Funny videos, field trips and foosball tables all increase the level of levity within the workplace. However, if you can make the actual work more fun on occasion, you’ll have a direct effect on productivity and job satisfaction.
Unless you want errors and reduced quality, it probably makes little sense to hold production races on the assembly line. Still, idea competitions can help get the cob webs off of your suggestion box while helping you learn innovative ways to do anything from increasing efficiency to identifying a winning new product idea.
Since employee health and fitness factor directly into your company’s bottom line (and maybe even health insurance premiums), consider including related activities as part of your fun factor. I worked for one company that handed out pedometers used to record daily steps that employees logged into a tracking application. We made new friends chatting during lunchtime walks, and the top three winners earned prizes. For the record, I continue to wear a pedometer more than a decade since that competition took place.
This brings up one important point: prizes aren’t strictly necessary for your games and competitions, but a valuable reward adds more incentives than a gold medal (unless it’s made of real gold, of course).
You Don’t Need A Team of Stand-Up Comedians to Get People Laughing
You and your managers don’t have to be well-known as funny people to instill humor and fun into business life. In fact, if you’re personally fond of the comedic stylings of Ricky Gervais or Sacha Baron Cohen, you should probably tone it down a bit. Just welcome well-placed humor into your dealings with people in and out of the office to create friendly relationships and a productive atmosphere.
So, encourage your employees and partners to use more humor as they work together. As long as they keep it civil, let them know that you don’t just tolerate levity; you appreciate it.