Good humour in the office?

Jorge García Palomo

No, we’re not talking about The Office, or at least only in part. This television series demonstrated with absurdity and premeditation that observing the daily life in an office can be  hilarious. In reality, humour improves the performance of employees. It’s been shown, and should never be forgotten, because humour –as Spanish comic Luis Piedrahita observes– “is a weapon of mass construction” even in the most solemn surroundings. Yes, in the workplace it livens up the day, promotes individual and collective creativity, integrates teams, accelerates overall productivity, cares for the health of the so-called human resources, and tends to bring optimum results in the company’s balance sheet and the guileless faces of the people. Could there be anything better?

Attitude, that magic concept

“Being happy and charming at work doesn’t mean that we’re not responsible. Just the opposite: you get much more work done. And you make people around you feel better,” actor Carles Castillo tells Fresh People Mag. For more than a decade this master of theatrical improvisation has been developing ImproMotivaEmpresa, which advises different organisations about how to perfect their internal and external communications so as to make humour into a motivating element among workers. “Now they call me because they see how important it is, whereas before I used to have to call them. Especially in small and large companies, communication is often minimal. People who for years have been talking by phone from one office to another hardly know each other: they recognise each other in the lift but that’s about it,” he says.

A study by the Wharton School and Harvard Business School –as noted a few months ago by journalist Montse Mateos in Expansión– “reveals that colleagues who make others laugh are seen as more sure of themselves and competent and have greater status.” Because without any doubt “many people see humour as a sign of intelligence. Cracking a joke plays down an awkward situation and reduces levels of stress when they get too high.” In this respect, actor and teacher Carles Castillo stresses that there are some magic words that we should support: “Without any doubt, we have to include the concept of attitude. It’s clear that the daily routine of a job is not easy with all the rushing around, but I’m not going to fall victim to that. This doesn’t mean that you walk around the office singing, but that you do things as normally as possible. Because attitude, whether positive or negative, makes an impression.” And if we get up with in a lazy way or complain about what has to be done, it’s going to be an uphill climb as severe as any of those in the Tour de France bike race.

The head of ImproMotivaEmpresa suggests that companies spend money on training so as to, among other things, promote a social and mental tool like a sense of humour. Its talks have been attended by executives of multinational companies like McDonald’s, Repsol and the OKI technological firm, but also by “employees from a company that makes fartons, confectionary sweets typical of Valencia,” he says. He adds that we should try to promote a happy work atmosphere at any kind of company because, faced with pressures and difficulties, “good humour doesn’t solve problems but it helps you to see different solutions.”

Did you know that when we laugh we activate some 100 muscles? Is humour really so beneficial for health?, we asked on another occasion in Fresh People Mag. Humour is highly positive. Its capacity for surprise stimulates the brain and reinforces learning. It sharpens the wits, unleashes a storm of ideas, and prevents stress. And if its virtues are exercised in a group, the moment will probably be unforgettable. Because we tend to remember anecdotes, unexpected examples, good times during any period of life. Indeed, who hasn’t at one time or another been in an office –or newsroom– where there’s bad feeling because of rancour or bitterness or envy or mediocrity? A place where things go much worse than they would in an ambience that’s cordial, friendly, hilarious, more human and cooperative?

Humour, excitement and enterprise

As the Spanish writer and economist Fernando Trías de Bes puts it, “the business world has lived at a distance from humour. And that’s a big mistake. Without humour there is no excitement and without excitement there is no enterprise.” And that’s what Eduardo Jáuregui and Jesús Damián Fernández write in their book Alta Diversión. Los beneficios del humor en el trabajo (“High Amusement: The Benefits of Humour in Work”, Editorial Alienta), where they ask if fun and work can go together and if we would like the coffee break to be like playtime was at school.

In this sense, the book advocates team dynamics to reduce tension and get everyone participating, and provides effective techniques for transmitting messages with charm. It suggests how to get the attention of clients and lists many ways that the company can be more playful. And all this with the seal of approval of giants like IKEA, Google or Air Nostrum.

“Business tends to be serious,” writes Jáuregui in an article for Infojobs. “We want our companies to be serious. We want the clients, the employees and the competition to take us seriously. And there’s not much tolerance for what is usually called, to use a technical word, ‘messing about.’ Professionalism requires a solemn, impassive expression, like that of a Hollywood hero, which limits the freedom to smile and, even more so, to laugh openly.” And he proclaims: “If we’re able to make the office a happy place, and turn work into something that’s fun, and make Monday the favourite day of the week, or at least a less cursed day, we will have improved a large part of our lives.”

You’ve certainly heard about it, and with luck you may even have celebrated it: since 1996, the International Fun at Work Day has been celebrated, on 1 April. Here’s hoping it will always be that way, every day. Because who knows: from a smile may be born a laugh and the next business success. Good humour at the office? Yes, right away.

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