Why Social Laughter at Work is the Best Medicine for a Healthy Culture

business team successStudy after study has found that social support is key when it comes to fighting stress and staying happy. And there’s a chicken and egg relationship when it comes to the role of humor: Sharing a positive sense of humor helps make you more approachable and likeable, which helps you build and maintain a thriving social network. And conversely, lots of social interaction helps generate a lot of humor. According to Robert R. Provine, author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, “Laughter is the quintessential human social signal. Laughter is about relationships.” Provine’s research found that people laugh 30 times more when they are around other people than when they are alone. So the next time you are feeling stressed take a cue from the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and use a “laugh-life” by phoning a friend who you know will make you laugh and help you find the humor in a difficult situation.

A study of 1,648 students at Harvard, conducted by Shawn Achor, Phil Stone and Tal Ben-Shahar, also found that social support was by far the strongest predictor of happiness during stressful times. But here’s the really interesting piece of the study: What was most important in terms of sustained happiness wasn’t the level of social support the students received, it was how much they provided. In work situations, the study showed that social providers (people who initiate office activities, pick up the slack, invite people to lunch etc.) were 10 times more likely to be engaged in their work and 40% more likely to receive a promotion.

And as always, small things can make a big difference when it comes to boosting social support. The Ochsner Health System found positive results in their work environment and in patient satisfaction scores by instituting a very simple program to boost social support called the “10/5 Way”. When employees walk within 10 feet of another person at the hospital they must make eye contact and smile. When they walk within 5 feet, they must say hello. Ridiculously simple, yet surprisingly effective.

Michael Kerr is an international business speaker who travels the world researching, writing and speaking about inspiring workplace cultures and the role humor plays in creating great leaders and organizations.  Sign up for his raved about e-zine, Humor at Work for great ideas and insights to help you build a better workplace.

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