Heard the one about the humour consultant who said work should be fun? If this conjures up images of staplers in jelly, or an office whoopee cushion, think again. The link between laughter and good health is backed by research.
For example, in 1985, a study by US academics found that watching a comedy video boosts the level of an immune system protein called salivary immunoglobulin – one of the body’s first-line defences against potentially harmful infections.
And in 2004, a team of scientists at the University of Maryland found that laughter leads to improved blood vessel function. Additionally, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence showing that laughter helps post-operative patients recover more quickly.
Other statistics imply that we might all be slimmer and fitter if we laughed more, as three minutes of laughter is the equivalent of 10 minutes of aerobics. According to William Fry of Stamford University, if you belly-laughed for an hour, you would burn as much as 500 calories.
All of which makes perfect sense to Kate Hull Rogers, a Canadian humour consultant and founder of UK consultancy HumourUs.
Rogers has been spreading the message about having fun at work in the UK for the past 20 years. Speaking at a recent conference held by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), she warned that the UK workforce was suffering from a lack of laughter.
“Humour in the workplace is not about telling jokes it’s not about being funny or foolish,” she says. “It’s about building skills, developing the humour habit and achieving a perspective that encourages enjoyment in your employment.”
Formerly an actress, Rogers made the switch to consultancy after having a nervous breakdown brought on by stress. Doctors thought she would never work again. However, Rogers not only overcame her illness, but realised that she could help other people avoid going down the same path.
“Depression is inward looking, but the happier you are, the more aware you are of other people. So it follows that promoting a culture of laughter at work will help connect people,” she says.
Far from making the workplace into a relentless ‘comedy zone’, Rogers sees office humour as being a gentle and fluid way of creating a sense of community between colleagues, and helping with positive communication.
“Humour at work is about tolerance and diversity. It’s about encompassing everyone,” she says. “It has to be organic, not some sort of enforced frivolity.”
To this end, she goes into organisations from all sectors to promote the idea of integrating work and life, rather than encouraging staff to see fun as something that can only happen when they have signed off for the day.
Rogers is a member of a growing band of humour consultants, many of whom are employed by major companies to boost morale, reduce stress and increase productivity. The Happiness Project, set up by psychologists Ben Renshaw and Robert Holden 15 years ago, has a client list that includes The Body Shop, BT, Sony and Shell.
“When you use humour at work, people’s confidence grows, their appreciation of other people grows, and their team-building skills improve – it’s simple, but very effective,” says John Cremer, a consultant with the Happiness Project. “It just creates a great feeling of natural wellbeing.”
And he believes that bringing the right kind of gentle, inclusive humour into the workplace will boost retention levels as well as enhancing performance.
“In exit interviews, again and again companies find that it’s not better pay that makes people move on, but the feeling that they are under-valued where they are. Laughter can help us enjoy what we do, and get the most out of our everyday lives.”
There are plenty of options for anyone wanting to introduce these ideas. Suggestions include: alternative mission statements, silly workplace anthems, talent contests, quiz nights, humorous video or DVD lunches, group walks, humour bulletin boards, charity fundraising events, stress balls, office awards and an office “fun fund” for random days out.
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Personnel Today’s sister publication, Occupational Health, is a monthly magazine dedicated to keeping you on top of occupational health issues. To subscribe, go to www.OHmagazine.co.uk or call 01444 445566. Out on 12 January 2007.
Healthier and wealthier
According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), a healthy population is good for the national economy. Healthier workers generally have higher earnings, put in longer hours and are more likely to be employed in the first place, according to academic research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Health bodies may merge
The Health and Safety Commission has proposed a merger with its sister body, the Health and Safety Executive, to provide a stronger voice on health and safety in the UK. The commission has published a public consultation on the plan, which will run until March. The body wants to merge to make its reporting and decision making more accountable, it has announced.
Obesity is growing problem
Obesity is a growing problem in the UK workforce. The charity Cancer Research UK has found that obesity could result in as many as 12,000 cases of weight-related cancer each year. The most recent figures show that in 2003 there were 24.2 million obese or overweight people in the UK, while the government has estimated that there will be a 14% increase in obesity by 2010, pushing the number to 27.6 million.