We’ve all heard the phrase that “laughter is the best medicine.”

Medical science seems to back up the claim. Research shows that laughter releases chemicals in our bodies that relieve stress and enhance our mental and physical health. Laughter even seems to have positive effects on the lungs and heart, not to mention muscle tone in the face, neck, and belly.

But perhaps the most laudable effect of laughter is that it helps build relationships with people around us. So if laughter is in fact the best medicine, how do we apply it in the workplace?

Most humor is related to insights about life, often about human behavior. Dave Fleming is a speaker, author, and workplace humorist. For 20 years, he uncovered consumer insights while leading the marketing for brands like Dr Pepper, Snapple, and Pizza Hut. Today he shares his comedic insights about the workplace with clients like Southwest Airlines, Fujitsu, Hilton, and Clemson University.

Let’s see if Fleming’s advice can inspire some laughs in your workplace.

Rodger Dean Duncan: Why is it important for us to laugh at work?

Dave Fleming: The minute we stop taking ourselves so seriously is the minute we improve our performance. Why? Just look at our behavior. We have meetings called fire drills, yet nothing is truly on fire. We send emails with exclamation points and demand a read receipt. The expectations and demands on our jobs can sometimes appear to be never-ending. That’s why stepping away, even for just five minutes, and having a laugh with a colleague or pointing out something funny within your office is a great way to recharge or reconnect.

Duncan: Where can all of this humor in the office be found?

Fleming: It’s everywhere. Look at the things we do every day with just a slightly different lens. Conference calls are hilarious because no one ever knows the code, the calls never start on time, and we love to scream “who just joined” when we hear the little beep as someone gets on the call five minutes late.

Go to the break room and check out the crazy food left for the vultures on the break room table, or review the passive aggressive notes left on and inside the fridge.

Finally, 100 out of 100 times, if four people in a meeting are wearing a blue shirt and the fifth person is wearing a red shirt, the person wearing the red shirt will say, “I guess I missed the memo on the blue shirt.”

These are just a few of the myriad of examples of the funny behavior that plays out every day in the office. If you’re working on a cross-functional project, a problem with silos often arises. Not on Old MacDonald’s farm, but within the departments represented on a project. If you can build a connection with a cross-functional colleague, even if it’s just a laugh at the stale pizza crusts being treated like filet mignon on the break room table, you have experienced the positive impact of humor.

Duncan: So, should companies hire a stand-up comedian?

Fleming: No … although I know a guy. Laughter and humor need to be organic. Laughter is therapeutic. It’s also contagious. If you hear laughter a few cube rows over, you become instantly curious. You wonder “What’s going on and why am I missing out?”

We get so singularly caught up in our own work and priorities that it’s easy to forget the massive benefits of camaraderie. I encourage people to stop sending emails that travel a total of five feet over one cubicle wall and get up and talk to a colleague. Better yet, share a funny story.

Duncan: What are some things leaders can do to trigger the benefits of laughter, especially for those who are concerned that they aren’t funny?

Fleming: First, break redundancy. If you hold a weekly staff meeting at the same time and cover the same type of agenda every week, the meeting will quickly become unproductive. Mix in five minutes of fun at the beginning or end. Play paper football. Play a few rounds of the highly entertaining and engaging game Catchphrase. Smiles and laughter will ensue and the boring staff meeting that drained productivity and creativity in the past will actually begin to ignite good performance.

Second, involve your team. As a leader you don’t have to be “the comedian.” You simply need to provide a forum for laughter and fun.

Humor can come in many forms. One of my former bosses used his personal recognition award to spur creativity and laughter. The award was the “Golden Duck,” given to someone for exemplary, or golden, work performance. The winner had 30 days to enjoy the Golden Duck’s company and then presented, in picture or video form, the exploits of their month together. The Golden Duck met celebrities, went on vacations to foreign countries, and was the star of karaoke videos. The Golden Duck was a source of great pride and great laughter but also drove business results and boosted morale.

Duncan: Morale and culture are two areas that businesses are constantly monitoring. How can laughter boost morale and drive culture in the workplace?

Fleming: Find consistent, unexpected ways to create laughter. Include as many people as possible. Have “Ugly Sweater Day” at the holidays. Play “guess that baby picture.” Have a bake off with the company logo and colors as the template. Or do something simple like having a meeting outside on a beautiful day. I guarantee that smiles and laughter will result.

One note of caution: be careful about counting on just the “Fun Committee” that many companies use. This group may do great work, but it can have unrealistic expectations thrust upon it. Let the Fun Committee deliver a great company picnic and holiday party. But for the true day-to-day impact, find those spontaneous opportunities for laughter in the cubicle alleys. That’s where morale is best measured and where the desired culture is cultivated.

Rodger Dean Duncan is the bestselling author of CHANGE-friendly LEADERSHIP: How to Transform Good Intentions into Great Performance. Follow him on Twitter @DoctorDuncan

 

This article was written by Rodger Dean Duncan from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.