Have you been into an office or building recently where the atmosphere was tense, employees were hunched over endless rows of computer moniters, there was an almost silent hush in the room and an unspoken layer of anxiety and resignation filling the air?
Of course we often need a quiet place in which to work and concentrate, depending on the nature of our job. Specific roles require intense periods of focus which may need to be carried out in silence or in a calm environment and companies provide specially designated areas in their buildings to achieve this.
However employees can benefit hugely from enjoying opportunities to get together to chat, socialise and laugh during the working day. Companies are becoming more and more aware of the need to provide these opportunites in order to boost the health and well-being of their staff, leading to increased employee engagement in tasks and greater productivity.
Shawn Anchor, one of the leading experts on human potential in the U.S. reminds us in his recent book ‘The Happiness Advantage’ that “Happiness leads to success in nearly every domain,including work, health, friendship, sociabilty, creativity and energy.”
Setting up an environment which encourages laughter and playfulness at work does not just allow employees to feel recognised and valued but also gives them a chance to release tension, renew energy and connect meaningfully with others.
In their excellent book ‘Play’ Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan have collated evidence that shows that play in the business world can lead to enhanced creativity and ground-breaking discoveries. They advocate that companies embrace the ethos of play in the workplace.
One of their main findings is that “true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work.”
They also found that when employees took part in a fun, energising game like ‘Twister’ before embarking on a ‘brainstorming’ exercise they were able to access imaginative and original ideas more easily.
When we are ‘playing ‘ with our work or ‘toying ‘ with ideas and we feel we are able to experiment freely, we can discover new ways of thinking and hence make ingenious discoveries.
Laughter, of course, often emerges as a result of playing. Being able to laugh at incidences at work, sharing amusing anecdotes with colleagues or even participating in well intentioned teasing can instantly lighten the mood. Laughing helps to freshen the senses and rejuvenate us in between intense periods of concentration and production.
Laughter provides extra oxygen to the brain that it requires in order to function at an optimal level and relaxes us at the same time, a bit like pulling into the pit stop on the Formula One circuit.
Playing and laughing with colleagues helps us to feel accepted as one of the team, and encourages us to take risks where necessary. Of course introducing a laughter initiative into a company needs to be carefully thought through and staff involved at all levels to ensure the objectives of the new sheme and its validation is understood by all parties.
Unfortunately in today’s often frenetic world of deadlines, demanding schedules and fast paced expectations, we are often discouraged from being seen as having too much fun at work or frowned upon for taking a laughter break over the water cooler. The unwritten message is that if you are at work you should take it extremely seriously, or you can’t be an effective employee. This damaging belief needs to be challenged and the research on the benefits of laughter and playfulness at work need to be fully explored.
We can enjoy our work, we can have fun in the office and still provide the goods.
Only we might be healthier, happier and more engaged if we laughed and played a little along the way.