Post-covid employee engagement
Fiona Passantino, Early June, 2022
One of the best restaurants in the Netherlands some years ago used to issue every table with a small plastic cow. People would be seated and the waiters left the room. No drinks, amuses or bread were served. People sat in baffled silence as the minutes ticked by without so much as a glass of water. Finally, someone would eventually grab the little plastic cow and turn it around in their hands, which made a loud mooing sound.
Table after table would do the same until a chorus of moos rose from the room. And at the very moment when the mooing was at its peak and the room was alight with laughter, the waiters burst in with trays and bottles and baskets to deliver the first course. Because, according to the chef, laughter makes food taste better.
The more we study laughter, the more we see the benefits for our mental and physical health. When we laugh, something changes in our physical and hormonal household; our heart rates and blood pressure decrease and our circulation improves. Neuropeptides are released to combat stress, depression and anxiety, increase our self-esteem and bolster our auto-immune response[i]. Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphin join for a cocktail of general happiness and well-being.[ii]
The benefits of laughter in the workplace
Laughter is like giftwrap. Having it doesn’t change the quality of the gift, but it improves the full giving experience. At work, fun and humor do not replace productivity, but augments it. Lower stress levels mean we are less likely to make mistakes, leave our jobs or undermine our colleagues. Even if the deadlines are tight and the stakes are high, laughter is the best weapon against high-stress situations. Weaving it into a meeting, a presentation, an email chain builds our resilience and makes us more connected to our colleagues. Engagement is up by 15% and studies show increases in creativity and overall higher performance[i].
Laughter also works at the other end of the stress-spectrum; monotonous, repetitive jobs seem more interesting and enjoyable. Laughter makes us more creative and collaborative, and even our analytical precision and productivity increases by 10% compared with teams who are serious[ii].
Leaders who joke during difficult times also seem confident, competent and keep their teams together longer. Leaders with a sense of humor can be 27% more motivating and admired than those who don’t make jokes at work[iii].
Five ways to improve your HR (Humor Resources)
Some people are born with a great sense of humor. For others, it’s a matter of practice. Humor is more habit than skillset; it’s a muscle you build up and train with conscious effort and use. One can compare it with mindfulness; the brain can be trained to see and experience humor more by building awareness and weaving these stories, details and ideas into your everyday banter[i].
Here are five easy ways to start.
1. Start with yourself.
Authentic humor stars with self-deprecation; a personal story about your day that makes you look a bit foolish opens wide doors of trust. If you laugh at yourself, it instantly sends a signal of being in a safe space and that everything is going to be okay. Train yourself to see funny something funny about every potentially negative – or positive – situation, even the most humdrum, daily occurrence, like your trip to the coffee place gone awry or a dog in a raincoat.
Start every team meeting with a silly exercise. A poll asking the five best porn names. Make your team members play a game, dance or sing to a children’s song. Take a quiz of useless trivia. Do mad libs to create nonsensical sentences. Anything to get people laughing.
3. Take a funny break.
Block 10 minutes in your calendar for a serious funny break. Watch a video, listen to a bit of standup or check your favorite cat feed, just to get things on track in the middle of a long day.
Set out a bowl of candy on your table, at the meeting, or or on your desk. Only people who make you laugh may have one.
The mooing cow prop works for meetings, too; awkward silence to start with and then something odd, simple, that starts everyone laughing for a meeting off to a good start.
Laughing through the stress of tight deadlines doesn’t make the deadlines go away. And it doesn’t mean we’re not serious about what we’re doing. But laughter makes our teams more engaged and more creative and makes work a much better place to be.
(1) Mayo (2021) “Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke”, The Mayo Clinic. Accessed June 5, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456
(2) Hyken (2021) “A Little Laughter Decreases Stress and Improves Productivity”, Forbes Magazine. Accessed June 5, 2022. https://www.forbes.com/sites/shephyken/2021/09/05/a-little-laughter-decreases-stress-and-improves-productivity/?sh=2eeca59036d6
(3) Johnson (2021) “Three Ways To Make Fun Of Yourself At Work And Win”. Forbes Magazine. Accessed June 5, 2022. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2021/09/17/three-ways-to-make-fun-of-yourself-at-work-and-win/?sh=344a16eb16b7
(4) Heggie (2018) “The Benefits of Laughing in the Office”, Harvard Business Review. Accessed June 5, 2022. https://hbr.org/2018/11/the-benefits-of-laughing-in-the-office
(5) Johnson (2021) “Three Ways To Make Fun Of Yourself At Work And Win”. Forbes Magazine. Accessed June 5, 2022. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2021/09/17/three-ways-to-make-fun-of-yourself-at-work-and-win/?sh=344a16eb16b7
(6) Beard (2014) “Leading with Humor” Harvard Business Review. Accessed June 5, 2022. https://hbr.org/2014/05/leading-with-humor
(7) Safaa, Shattla, Sohair, Mabrouk, Gehan, Abed (2019) “Effectiveness of Laughter yoga Therapy on job Burnout Syndromes among Psychiatric Nurses” American Research Institute for Policy Development https://www.lachyoga-sonne.de/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Effectiveness-of-Laughter-yoga-Therapy-on-job-Burnout-Syndromes-among-Psychiatric-Nurses.pdf
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What does it mean to be “engaged” in today’s workplace? How do we inspire, inform and connect a working community, build a culture of irreplaceability, trust and listening to keep people onboard and rowing together?
Engagement is about bringing our best selves to the office, being heard, supported, feeing irreplaceable and free. This bright, funny comic book is a road map for leaders at any level, at any organization, telling the story of Covid, offering a clear, research-driven roadmap towards our future of work.