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The Horrors of a Humourless Workplace

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Laughing all the way to the bank

“Without learning there can be no perfection, and without humour, learning becomes more difficult.”
– Humourology Page 119

Healthy Humour

While the benefits of humour at work are undeniable, the horrors of a humourless workplace are equally profound. Imagine a workspace where laughter is scarce, and the atmosphere is tense. Such environments foster a toxic culture that can stifle creativity, breed resentment, and lead to burnout.

Who hasn’t worked in a place where they feared that the fun was failing or, at the very least, fading fast?

In a humourless workplace, employees may dread coming to work, leading to increased absenteeism and decreased productivity. Team members might hesitate to share ideas or voice concerns, fearing judgement or ridicule. The lack of psychological safety stifles collaboration and innovation, creating a stagnant work environment.

During Volkswagen’s Emission test scandal of 2015, it became widely known that then CEO Martin Winkerton ran the company with a culture of fear. Employees felt uneasy around their boss and feared repercussions for their actions. Without this toxic workplace culture, inspired by a humour-lacking leader, the car manufacturer may have been able to work through the bumps in the road and avoid the roadblocks altogether.

Whilst it might seem that the Humourology Attitude (HA) of putting the fun into business fundamentals is just a good tagline, when you have experienced working in a place where potential for fear is more frequent than fun, you will understand how bad it can be.

Translating Humour into Tangible Workplace Improvements

Let’s imagine the case of “Funco,” a tech start-up known for its vibrant and joyful office culture. Funco’s CEO, Jack Timpson, is a firm believer in the value of humour at work. He encourages his team to embrace laughter, incorporating playful elements into their daily routines.

Every Monday morning, the team gathers for a “Meme Monday” session, where they share humourous internet memes related to recent industry trends. This lighthearted activity sets a positive tone for the week, fostering a sense of community and excitement. As a result, Funco’s employees feel more motivated, leading to increased productivity and creativity.

Numerous other companies, from small businesses to corporate giants, have reaped the rewards of incorporating humour into their organisational culture. I worked for many years with the leaders at Google. They were renowned for their innovative playful office spaces and whimsical meeting rooms. The company’s “April Fools’ Day” pranks and humourous doodles on its homepage have become legendary, creating a sense of fun and camaraderie among its employees.

Beyond the surface level of Humourology lies a treasure trove of psychological benefits. The LSE Business Review
reveals that leveraging humour at work is a potent recipe for boosting individual happiness and enhancing psychological safety.

In the pressure-cooker environment of modern workplaces, stress is an ever-present companion. Humour acts as a stressbuster, allowing employees to find moments of relief amidst deadlines and demanding projects. A shared laugh lightens the atmosphere, making work more enjoyable and manageable.

Furthermore, humour fosters a sense of psychological safety – the assurance that individuals can express themselves without fear of judgement or reprisal. When humour is embraced inclusively, team members feel valued and respected, leading to higher levels of trust and camaraderie.

Studies have shown that teams with a strong sense of psychological safety are more likely to take risks, share ideas, and collaborate effectively. In such a nurturing environment, individuals can tap into their full potential, leading to improved performance and productivity.

High turnover rates are often a symptom of a humourless workplace. When employees feel disconnected and unappreciated, they are more likely to seek opportunities elsewhere, taking their skills and knowledge with them. Losing valuable talent not only hampers company growth but also incurs recruitment and training costs. All the smartest HR and People Directors I know at the top of the game, appreciate that fun is a huge factor in facilitating talent retention.

Tessy Ojo CBE is the Chief Executive of the Diana Award, a NED of Comic Relief, BBC Charity Appeals and more as well as a forceful campaigner for social justice. On the Humourology podcast she said,

“I want my team to thrive, I want my team to feel that they have all the tools they need to come into the workplace. If we could successfully support the team through intentional laughter, I know three things will happen, I will increase my team’s mental wellbeing, I will improve their general levels of happiness, and which invariably improves their levels of engagement. But also, I would reduce sick days. If they’re happier, healthier, they would take less time off.”

In the quest for workplace success, it’s crucial not to underestimate the power of humour. Humourology, with its remarkable ability to enhance creativity, foster psychological safety, and boost individual happiness, is a vital ingredient for any thriving organisation.

As Stamford professors Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas assert in their book Humor Seriously,
“Humour is not frivolous; it’s a tool to help us navigate the complexities of work and life with a lighter touch. Embracing humour in the workplace can lead to improved collaboration, increased job satisfaction, and ultimately, better business outcomes.”


Laughter and Joy Bring Success

As political heavyweight Alastair Campbell – the voice of the British government for 10 years through the 1990s and early 2000s – says,

“The key to business success is a happy and healthy workforce who are prepared to be innovative and think differently. You’re going to get happier, healthier, more innovative workflows if you encourage people to enjoy themselves.”

Let’s bid farewell to the horrors of a humourless workplace and welcome a new era of laughter, joy, and success. Whether it’s starting meetings with a little fun fact or sharing a good-natured joke during a coffee break, let humour be the driving force that transforms the way we work and interact.

Our philosophy is that a humour-rich workplace can change the lives of employees for the better, making them look forward to each day with a smile on their faces. So, let’s unleash the power of Humourology and embark on a journey to create workplaces where laughter echoes through the halls and success follows suit.

Remember, as the saying goes, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” Let’s not waste another day in the horrors of a humourless workplace but instead embrace the wonders of humour to make our work lives brighter, more fulfilling, and infinitely more enjoyable.

You can learn to have more of a HA in your life by reading The Humourology Book or listening to our great guests on The Humourology Podcast.

See you next Tuesday.


Paul x

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