I heard this story a couple of years ago: a larger company’s most profitable branch showed deficiencies, the current management was replaced right away. Soon, the new executive team identified crucial spots that (so they thought) needed to be addressed, among them: employees were laughing too much— the development team was found guilty on that count. Some serious talks to team leaders later, the responsible supervisor urged the development team to restrain themselves from “such public displays of pleasure”, but to behave “in a more serious way” – or they might lose their jobs. Their laughter, he reasoned, made executives think they wouldn’t take their work seriously.
Well, the new management was probably ill-advised in trying to establish such a change of culture and climate.
Employee’s creativity and engagement in tasks beyond contractual requirements are increasingly seen as an important asset for organizations. Accordingly, a growing body of research investigates how we can support employees to go the extra mile for their company. This year, some interesting studies examined the relation of work engagement and fun at work. Findings indicate, that people who laugh at work also show more work engagement, productivity, and creativity. Also, if leaders show humor, their teams perform better, are more motivated, and produce more innovative ideas. And these results even hold true for culturally dissimilar places like Germany, New Zealand, or India, and are also supported by a meta-analysis conducted by US scientists.
So, if your employees laugh a lot at work, it might not indicate a lack of respect for their job, but may even make them do more for it. And that is something you definitely want to support.
Goswami, A., Goswami, A., Nair, P., Nair, P., Beehr, T., Beehr, T., … & Grossenbacher, M. (2016). The relationship of leaders’ humor and employees’ work engagement mediated by positive emotions: Moderating effect of leaders’ transformational leadership style. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 37(8), 1083-1099.
Mesmer-Magnus, J., Glew, D. J., & Viswesvaran, C. (2012). A meta-analysis of positive humor in the workplace. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 27(2), 155-190.
Plester, B., & Hutchison, A. (2016). Fun times: the relationship between fun and workplace engagement. Employee Relations, 38(3), 332-350.
Pundt, A. (2015). The relationship between humorous leadership and innovative behavior. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 30(8), 878-893.
Helpful review on this topic for HR practitioners: Hazelton, S. (2014). Positive emotions boost employee engagement: Making work fun brings individual and organizational success. Human Resource Management International Digest, 22(1), 34-37.
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