U.S. Employees Agree: A Good Laugh Can Increase Workplace Productivity

Two recent studies reveal humor may have a positive impact on the corporate bottom line. Researchers at Penn State University (PSU) and Silly Slammers are both confirming what employees have been saying for years: Laughter is essential to a healthy and productive workplace.

"It's long been argued that a good sense of humor is a key communication tool that can bring about group cohesion and commitment, thus facilitating good performance," says John J. Sosik, a management professor at PSU's Great Valley graduate school and co-author of one study. "But until now, humor's effects have largely been untested. This study gives us some evidence of these effects that, in the past, were just hunches."

Sosik's study is entitled "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bottom Line," and it examines the effects of leadership behavior and humor style on both individual and unit performance. "The pattern of results indicates that the style of humor exhibited by a leader had a positive impact on unit performance. These preliminary results suggest that how leaders influence their direct reports with respect to humor style may be one of a number of factors that contribute to bottom-line performance," explains Sosik.

The study finds that managers who had adopted a "transformational" leadership style - a management style research has shown to promote the highest levels of employee and overall organizational performance - use humor most often. "This is an exciting finding," Sosik says. "Humor juxtaposes two seemingly opposite concepts. As a result, employees are able to visualize concepts they might not have otherwise considered, thus creating new ideas and potentially an improved bottom line. In short, this suggests that a leader's use of humor may help shape a creative and efficacious work force."

A national workplace survey conducted by Gibson Greetings, a greeting-card company, and Silly Slammers, makers of hand-sized bean bags "with attitude," has also demonstrated a link between humor and productivity. The survey was conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide, an international consumer research firm, and reveals a full 90 percent of participants believe humor in the workplace helps relieve stress. Further, 60 percent believe they would be more productive if their employers encouraged the use of humor.

"The results of this survey confirm what we've suspected all along, and that is people want to have fun while they're working," says Frank O'Connell, chairman, president and CEO of Gibson Greetings, Inc.

The results also show today's employees could really use a good laugh. An overwhelming majority of survey participants describe their jobs as very to moderately stressful, with a mere 10 percent describing their jobs as completely stress-free. Men and women find their jobs equally stressful, but older participants (those over 55) report higher levels of stress than their younger counterparts. Finally, location seems to play a role in workplace tension, with employees in the Midwest reporting the highest job-related stress levels, followed by workers in South.

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