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The business case for getting your team to laugh together

The CEO of Peppercomm observes that humor and levity in daily work interactions, even virtually, can actually change how our brains work to develop creative solutions, reduce stress, and solve problems.

[Source photo: Anand Thakur/Unsplash]

In the current “age of distraction”–with constant news, pings and memes—focus is fleeting. Technology has encroached on all aspects of our lives, with our devices squeezing more time out of our day than ever before. Productivity aside, how is the rise of negative and overwhelming world news impacting our employees’ wellbeing?  Moreover, how is the overload of information we receive throughout our day affecting them personally?

And, most important, what can we as leaders do to cut this Gordian knot?

While we turn to technology to soothe our anxieties and decompress, we also look to it in a business setting to improve communications, workflow and skills. However, technology can be a double-edged sword if not managed property. A recent Pega report studied five million hours of live desktop activities and found that the average employee switches between 35 applications more than one thousand times a day. With this in mind, leaders have an important role to play in mitigating information overload.

This culture of constant connection takes a toll, both professionally and personally. This is where humor comes in. Both stress management and information management should be ingrained in company culture and modeled from the top down. Bringing levity into the workplace can enhance employee engagement, wellbeing and performance—and ultimately become a competitive advantage for any business.

Fact: organizations in which humor is part of the culture reported shareholder returns 19% higher than their competitors, according to a Huet & Associates study.

Humor connects people and encourages them to be present. Injecting humor and levity in our daily work interactions, even virtually, can actually change how our brains work, generating more alpha brainwaves that help us develop creative solutions, reduce stress and solve problems. Most important, it builds resiliency, which can help employees better navigate the challenges and changes we are facing on a regular basis and bounce back more quickly.

Integrating humor into the workplace isn’t always easy, though. Business leaders need to be strategic about boundaries and approaches to ensure levity without offending their staff.


In general, humor can be a powerful coping tool in even the toughest of environments. Further, self-deprecating humor can be an effective way of improving employee engagement with leaders. Research by the Harvard Business Review found that individuals who disclose negative or sensitive information about themselves using humor are seen as warmer and more competent versus when they deliver in a serious manner.


It’s important to stay away from taboo topics when using humor to lighten the discussion. It’s not a time to get into a debate on politics or religion nor focus on a particular colleague or employee. Spoken or written from a position of authority, words carry added weight; they can be used to either foster further anxiety or create a supportive space. Whether it’s global conflict, business disruption or social unrest, we will continue to experience psychological challenges. Humor helps establish a culture of openness and discussion, providing a strong foundation and creating a comfortable space before a crisis hits.


It’s very difficult to dislike someone who makes you laugh. Use this to your advantage when meeting new teams or clients, discussing potential changes in the organization or simply to break the ice or tension in a room. When used appropriately, humor can build rapport and empathy— and even get a meeting back on track. It’s important to learn the right balance for your organization, specifically—as humor isn’t a fit for every company (like an autocratic, top-down culture).

For eons, most of corporate America has demanded a strict code of professionalism and stiff upper lips. But where has that gotten us? To a time when employees are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Fortunately, humor in the workplace creates an avenue for open communication and understanding, even in tough situations, and encourages creativity across a company. A culture that includes levity encourages people to be more authentic, creative and innovative, three factors that every business and its staff need today.


Steve Cody is the CEO of Peppercomm. More

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