Why Office Humour Is The Key To Employee Engagement

Especially in a post-pandemic world when the rules have changed



October 27, 2023

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The Office was the highest-streamed TV show during the pandemic & for good reason. It is quirky, with good comedic timing, set in an environment most people relate to (Psst! The office relationships & rivalry).

But does that justify why it was streamed so much?

When the pandemic hit, most employees started working from the comfort of their homes. They didn’t anticipate the fact that they would soon start missing their office. But what was it about the office environment that they missed? Work was still assigned & completed, meetings were still held, promotions were still handed out. Even though employee satisfaction remained more or less the same during WFH for companies that proactively supported the workers during the pandemic, employee engagement slumped. How is employee engagement different from employee satisfaction? When employees feel passionate about their jobs & are committed to their organization, they put discretionary effort into their work. This is employee engagement; whereas employee satisfaction indicates how satisfied or content the employees are.

So, why was employee engagement falling even when employees were working from the comfort of their homes?

Turns out, it wasn’t the difference in the work environment that led to reducing employee engagement, where employees started feeling empty & missing the office. If streaming data indicates anything, it’s the relationship shared between the employees that they were missing the most - the small talks, light jokes, or even the daily dose of dry dad jokes by someone in the team over coffee & lunch breaks.

But why humor?

Humans are social animals & need physical interaction with others to form closer bonds. The contact between team members, especially during tough times, aids in raising motivation. Celebrating the achievements of fellow employees makes them feel closer. The best physical interaction is partaking in activities that induce laughter & relaxation.  

When we laugh, our brains release the following hormones:

·  Endorphin: The chemical that induces pleasure & well-being, while reducing pain & discomfort

·  Oxytocin: The chemical that induces love & social bonding (Psst! "It’s also called the ‘lovemaking hormone”)

While reducing the production of

·  Cortisol: Which induces stress – & we want none of that here.

All these hormones play a key role in alleviating work stress & help make the work environment much more fun to work in. This is especially true for a post-pandemic workspace as employees returning to the office environment will have higher stress & trouble bonding with others due to the long break.

Is humor really helpful?

According to Michael Kerr, an international business speaker, president of Humor at Work & author of The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses are Laughing all the Way to the Bank (Dec. 2013), says the amount or type of humor you’ll find in any given workplace depends almost entirely on the culture. “In workplaces that encourage people to be themselves--that are less hierarchical & more innovative--people tend to be more open with their humor,” he says. “Even people who aren’t always comfortable sharing their humor tend to do so in more relaxed environments where the use of humor becomes second nature with everyone’s style.”

Humor plays a vital role in shaping a company in the following ways:

  • Humor increases the joy of working: People enjoy working with people they like. The easiest way for someone to like someone else is to break the ice with a joke. We spend a large chunk of our waking hour at the office, & deftly employed humor is a great way to gain friends & influence people.
  • Humor acts as a potent stress buster & boosts morale: Deadlines at the office are a big mood killer for everyone and there's nothing like destressing binge-watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine & laugh over Jake & Captain Holt’s shenanigans. You know where I’m going with this; humor helps in easing stress & incorporating it in the office can help avoid stress in employees which will also aid in higher productivity. Also, humor in the office boosts morale especially under high-stress situations, & also makes the employee look forward to coming back to the office the next morning.
  • Humor is humanizing: When rightly placed humor in the office is humanizing & makes the employees feel connected to the team & the company. This is especially helpful when the pandemic eases out & people resume going to the office. Feeling connected to the company is a key point of employee engagement, & humor is key to that experience.
  • Humor puts others at ease & makes them more approachable: As employees resume going to the office, there might be a lot of new faces in the team & the company. This can create an atmosphere of uneasiness between old & new employees alike. Small talk & light jokes can break the air of uneasiness & bring ease amongst the employees leading to faster team collaborations. Who would you rather approach - a grumpy person with a bitter expression or a humorous person with a sweet smile? The answer is pretty self-explanatory.  
  • Humor helps people be creative: Humor helps people lower their internal critic & see things from a newer perspective. This allows the creative juices of people to flow.
  • Humor helps build trust: When people joke, especially with people they are not close with, they give away who they are. This can help in building trust between employees.
  • Increases productivity: Humor in the office creates an upbeat atmosphere that encourages interaction between employees & teams leading to higher brainstorming. The employees also feel that there are fewer risks with thinking out of the box which increases the productivity of the company.
  • Makes the company stand out: When the overall atmosphere of the company is jovial, it leaks to the most important facet of any company - customer service. With a jovial customer service team that goes out & beyond with the customer service approach, customer retention is increased & helps the company stand out. Imagine going to a restaurant where the service is horrible, but the food is good, versus a place where the food isn’t as good, but the staffs are friendly & helpful. Which of the two restaurants are you going back to the second time if you have to?

Why do leaders need to encourage humor in the office

Research shows that employees with humorous bosses were 15% more engaged, & teams were twice as likely to solve creative challenges. Leaders with humor were 27% more motivating & admired than those who didn’t have any sense of humor. Research by Gallup also shows that one of the greatest drivers of employee performance is having a close friend - be it one with whom you share a laugh or a rivalry like that of Jim & Dwight - at work.

  • Humor enhances perceived leadership skills: Leaders who use humor, particularly in stressful situations, are viewed as being on top of things, being in charge, & in control.
  • Humor diffuses conflict:  Humor is a great equalizer - a means to facilitate conversation & bridge differences. Humor is identified as a key factor in peace-building & international mediation, so why can’t it solve squabbles in your office.
  • Humor creates more opportunities: Research has shown that managers displaying a good sense of humor are given more opportunities in organizations than those without a sense of humor.
  • Humor builds credibility: When leaders are humorous with their employees, they are seen to be more credible & competent.
  • Humor improves ratings: It has been seen that when supervisors use humor, it results in enhanced subordinate work performance, satisfaction, perception of supervisor performance, satisfaction with supervisor, & workgroup cohesion, as well as reduced work withdrawal.

Let’s talk about humor in your company culture as well

Company culture is the set of shared values, goals, attitudes & practices that characterize an organization. In the present conditions, the customer or client wants to interact with companies that are casual & understand humor. Employees want to be associated with companies that are cool & bright, not brooding & uptight. The best way to associate company culture with the present demographic is to make humor a go-to amongst the employees in the company. When the employees are bright & smiling, the client glimpses that as positive reinforcement that the company has values that put the employee first.

It has been seen that something as simple as adding a lighthearted joke at the end of a sales pitch — like “My final offer is X & I’ll throw in my pet frog” — can increase customers’ willingness to pay by 18%, & to engrain that kind of humor in any team, humor must be a part of the company culture as well.

Now that I’ve convinced you to bring humor into the office, here are some pointers:

  • Get to know your own & other’s humor styles
  • Start small & slow & then incorporate it into your daily routine
  • Use humor to lift people & not to bring them down

As we end this blog, I want to reiterate that humor at the workplace can act like the key that opens up the employees to feel more welcome at work, especially during these difficult times. Humour is a magic charm that opens people’s hearts & it is the very thing that is required by employees in a post-pandemic office.

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