Humour amongst the staff and in the workplace

There are few tonics as good for our hearts as when we watch a baby laugh! Laughter is one of the first things we do as a human being.

It is in our human nature to typically veer towards pleasure and try to avoid pain. Seeking humour, influences many of our decisions on a daily basis. Think of the magazines we read or the TV shows that we watch. We all like to be entertained.

There is no doubting that humour is widely accepted as being a highly desirable attribute. It can be a powerful tool that strengthens our image and can have a strong influence over the kind of character one wishes to befriend or just sit beside at the party.

In the workplace and particularly in the school staffroom, it is known that teams or departments communicate and work much better when they tell jokes. When teaching colleagues or co-workers make each other laugh, they are more likely to support each other, avoid or sort out problems and increase general productivity.

Psychologists at the University of Amsterdam recently conducted studies on patterns of humour in conversations. They concluded that where more jokes were told in our places of work and when people laughed together, they also made more constructive statements to each other - simple supportive terms such as “that’s a good idea” or “we could sort this out by ….”

Consequently, this led to higher performance in several ways, such as reaching targets and improving efficiency. The researchers surmised that humour could improve team interaction by triggering positive forms of communication.

All very well, you might say! One guy in the staff room or the administrative office might well be able to have everyone laughing and people thinking he is highly confident and competent. He gets people to remember what he said and helps his team work better together. Then the other guy tries the same and it falls flat or even worse. His humour offends people and even alienates them. He comes across as not that serious about his job.

Because most of us are too afraid of looking like the second guy, we will opt to play it safe and rarely try to use humour with our work colleagues. In any circumstance, we have to weigh up the situation and decide on the best words to deliver. Telling jokes is of course risky, and individuals who take that risk can be perceived as being too sure of themselves. The other side of this, is that the joke teller can also be seen as intelligent and competent.

Like everything in life, balance is the key, so when respect has been gained and people see the ‘serious’ side of a colleague, then the option for humour is rarely taken as if one is a full-time joker and nothing else.

Here are four main areas of how humour impacts upon our human development and well-being.

The Emotional Welfare
With so much power to help us heal and renew, the ability to laugh easily and frequently is an essential resource for surmounting problems, enhancing our relationships, and supporting both physical and emotional health. This priceless medicine of humour as a mood booster is fun and free.
It can diminish pain, lighten burdens and protect us from the damaging effects of stress, working fast to bring our mind and body back into balance. When laughing, you can’t feel angry or anxious or sad all at the same time.

The Physical Benefits
Humour also has physical benefits with deep ‘belly-laughs’ known to help one’s circulation and muscles. The contagious nature quickly relieves tension and stress. Even hearing it primes our brain and prepares us to smile or even join in the fun.

Medics report that it also decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving our resistance to disease. Any improvement in the function of blood vessels and increase of blood flow can help protect us against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

Laughter may even help you to live longer. One study from Norway found that people with a strong sense of humour outlived those who don’t laugh as much. The difference was particularly notable for those battling a serious or even terminal illness.

Spiritual and Mental Health
The spiritual is about how we are interconnected with one another and the kind of language we use to communicate in different circumstances builds bonds, giving reassurance to us as unique individuals.
Our uniqueness can be the source of fun in both a negative and positive way. Being able to laugh at oneself requires much self-knowledge and acceptance. With this comes the ability to remain grounded in reality and stay alert.

Humour brings psychological and even spiritual benefits, where one can transcend human weakness and mistakes, finding hope and renewed inspiration. Hand in hand with this comes the ability to forgive sooner. It also helps people deal with pain, loss and adversity.

Social Interactions
Having a humorous outlook or approach to things generally helps to create a psychological distance which is a great remedy to diffuse awkward social situations or conflict.

It helps one to avoid feeling overwhelmed, soothing the psyche and shifting the perspective to a new or less threatening light. A shared laugh and seeing the funny side can enable you to move on from confrontations without holding on to bitterness or resentment.

When best-selling author Toby Young wrote How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, he warned of the dangers of telling jokes around co-workers or the boss. "It is a risk that simply isn't worth taking. In almost every case, you're flouting authority. And that is often punishable by dismissal."

If it comes to that, then maybe best to look for a job where you are politely ignored and left to your own devices - with decent Internet access, plenty of biscuits, and coffee. Or if you choose to return to an open office environment or a welcoming staff room, just remember that being friends with co-workers is like having pet tigers…. fun in theory but be aware that they could turn on you at any time!

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