Is Laughter the best medicine for Ethical Behavior?
This blog is dedicated to my “significant other” who always tells me to laugh more. She is always laughing, even at asinine commercials…at least I think their stupid. It does make think, however, whether I would be happier if I laugh more. Don’t get me wrong. I am happy, mostly due to my significant other.
Anyway, back to workplace ethics. Last week I read a piece about how laughter in the workplace can promote a healthy work environment and more productive workers, according to Assistant Professor Chris Robert of the University of Missouri-Columbia. In an interview with Karen E. Klein of Business Week, Robert explains why humor on the job can reduce turnover and increase productivity. He says, “humor is one of the things associated with a positive effect, which increases not only productivity, but also the ability to communicate well with the boss, co-workers, and customers. It also enhances the degree to which you feel bonded, cohesive, and part of the group in the workplace.”
Michael Kerr, an international business speaker, president of Humor at Work, and author of The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses are Laughing all the Way to the Bank, 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 and more innovative–people tend to be more open with their humor.” 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.”
Then there are workplaces with employees who tone down their humor, often with the desire to be taken more seriously, he adds. “Yet, this can backfire as people who take themselves overly seriously are often, ironically, taken less seriously by the people around them.”
One survey suggests that humor can be at least one of the keys to success. A Robert Half International survey found that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement; while 84% feel that people with a good sense of humor do a better job. Another study by Bell Leadership Institute found that the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor.
“At an organizational level, some organizations are tapping into what I’d call ‘the humor advantage,’” Kerr says. “Companies such as Zappos and Southwest Airlines have used humor and a positive fun culture to help brand their business, attract and retain employees and to attract customers.”
From my review of research and writings on laughter in the workplace I have noticed a variety of reasons why humor is, apparently, a key to success at work. Here are a few of them.
1. People will enjoy working with you
2. Humor is a potent stress buster
3. It puts others at ease
4. Humor helps build trust
5. It helps to build morale
5. People who use humor tend to be more approachable
6. Humor can allow your company to stand out
7. It can increase productivity.
I can identify a link between laughter and ethics in the workplace. Employees tend to feel more comfortable bringing matters of concern to the attention of higher-ups when laughter is encouraged, albeit in appropriate circumstances. The work ethic will increase and enthusiasm will be contagious.
We all make mistakes whether in life or the workplace. I find it easier to laugh at my mistakes (all too often after a period of guilt) once I realize that there is nothing I can do to right the wrong other than admit it and resolve not to make the same mistake again. Creating an environment that promotes laughter can help to correct a mistake sooner rather than later, and it has many potential benefits for workplace ethics.
Perhaps businesses are going about fostering an ethical culture the wrong way. Rather than strict rules and unending compliance requirements, perhaps a good laugh should be incorporated into ethics training. If nothing else it shows the company doesn’t take itself too seriously. Who needs a hot line to report unethical behavior when a laugh line might avoid the need to do so in the first place?
As Mark Twain famously said, “Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage on May 6, 2015. Dr. Mintz is a professor in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at ethicssage.com.