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Healing with humour:
Making Laughter Work For You

© Catherine Ripplinger Fenwick

Psychologists say that people are motivated toward the fulfilment of basic needs. Meaningful work provides an avenue for satisfying many of our needs. Most people work because they have a need to pay their bills, they want to socialize with others, be recognized for a job well done, and function to their full potential.

The ideal workplace provides us with enough money to help us feel secure, enough challenge and recognition so we feel like we are valued, and the opportunity to interact positively with others. Part of this positive interaction at work requires that you take your job seriously and yourself lightly.

Do you find yourself being too serious at work? Has someone given you the message that if you are having too much fun you cannot really be working? The notion that it is wrong to have fun at work destroys much of our joy and laughter. In reality, when we enjoy life and laugh a lot we are more likely to do a better job and do more of it.


Myth #1. If I am having fun I can't really be working.

This notion comes from the old Listerine management model: "it has to taste bad to be effective". Work has to feel like work or it really isn't work. If it feels good it must be play, or something worse.

In reality, people who enjoy their work say they cannot tell the difference between their work and their play - it feels so much the same. To be passionate about something means to love it. Some people love their work, can't wait to get there, and they do more of it than people who dislike or feel indifferent toward their work.

Choose a job you love and you will never have

to work a day in your life.

- Confucius

People who are passionate about their work are also passionate in the rest of their lives. They love to play. They know that meaningful work, a positive attitude, and a joyful perspective on life make us healthier, happier, more productive, and more fun to be with.

Myth #2. If I use humour at work, people will not take me seriously. They might think I am lazy, flaky, or maybe even a bit crazy.

Witty, energetic, creative, productive people are fun to be around. When you think of all the people you have worked with, most likely you will remember the ones who had a good sense of humour. You will also remember that you learned more from these people than from some others you have known.

When work feels like fun we do more of it.

When you use humour appropriately, people probably will not think you are lazy, flaky or crazy. You may have to give people time to get used to the idea of having fun. In time people will come to understand the importance of making some time and space for healthy fun at work.

Appropriate humour is based on caring and empathy, builds confidence, brings people closer together, is mutually supportive, and invites everyone to laugh.

When humour is used inappropriately, people may be left feeling hurt or belittled. Racist and sexist humour must be avoided. The goal is to laugh together; not to laugh at others.

Myth #3. People in my workplace would never allow us to have fun at work.

There was a time when people were taught that it was improper for adults to laugh out loud in public. Thankfully, this notion is no longer held by many people in our culture. In reality, we are discovering the many benefits of laughter. The old adage that "laughter is the best medicine" is true for individuals as well as for organizations and small businesses. Stress and burn-out have been big topics in the last twenty years. Laughter and joy are the best antidotes for stress.

In this time of rapid and unrelenting change, employees and employers are looking for ways to help themselves and their employees to cope more effectively. A sense of humour and joy in living can help us through times of change and crisis. We know that if we want to incorporate something new in our workplace we need to do it gradually, starting with small steps. If you ease into the idea of having fun at work and slowly help to spread it throughout your workplace, you will be surprised at how quickly people will pick up on the idea.

Healthy humour is vital to our well being and our ability to adapt to change.
Appropriate use of humour is a skill that can be learned.

When we are learning any new skill, we start with small steps. First increase your own comfort level. Find out what things are funny for you and start to share that fun with others. Test the waters, see what kinds of things work for you and what things would be well received where you work. Take your cue from others when you are trying to be funny and see how it goes. If you sense that others are feeling uncomfortable, change your material or approach. It's O.K. to ask for feedback when you are using humour, to see if others are comfortable. Before long they will be joining the fun.


Just as laughter is necessary to a healthy lifestyle, it is necessary to a healthy workplace.

Laughter at work helps to:

  • Reduce stress levels. People cannot laugh and be anxious at the same time. Having fun at work prevents burn-out.
  • Boost morale. During stressful times morale at work can take a beating. When morale is low productivity goes down. It has been said that a 15% increase in morale can result in a 40% increase in productivity.
  • Facilitate change. Most people must learn to cope with ongoing unrelenting change in the workplace. People who laugh well are more flexible and more adaptable.
  • Improve communication. When used appropriately, the timely use of humour can get a point across effectively. Using humour to put a situation into proper perspective opens communication and assists problem solving.
  • Relieve boredom and increase creative energy. When we are laughing and having fun our bodies create chemicals which assist the functioning of the brain.
  • Build confidence. When humour is working well we feel better about ourselves. If we can learn to laugh at ourselves we are less rigid and more spontaneous. We can bounce back when bad things happen. We are less fearful of making mistakes and know how to cope with setbacks.

Laughter takes us back to a childlike (not childish) playfulness and spontaneity which is inherently enjoyable. It is very freeing and gives us a sense of power when things around us seem out of control.


  • Lighten up and let go of some of your need to control.
  • Embrace change, don't be afraid to let go of old ways of doing things. If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got.
  • Plan spontaneity. Organize informal social gatherings outside of work.
  • Create an atmosphere of joy with posters, pictures, cartoons, jokes and friendly banter with co-workers and clients.
  • Encourage a tacky dress/ goofy hat/ ugly tie/ funny t-shirt day.
  • Whatever else you are wearing, remember to wear a smile.
  • Create a staff skit for your next staff social.
  • Start meetings with people sharing something funny that happened to them in the past week.
  • Create a comedy corner with books, cartoons, bulletin board displays, tapes, videos, games, toys, etc.
  • Put jokes or cartoons on your memos, reports, and strategic planning manuals.

    Add some ideas of your own:

The successful workplace today values every employee, encourages creative thinking, and strives to make work a place that people cannot wait to get to.

Recommended reading

  • Benson, Herbert, MD.(1987). Your Maximum Mind. New York: Random House.
  • Ellenbogen, Glenn C., ed.(1985). The Directory of Humor Magazines and Humor Organizations in America. New York: Wry-Bred Press.
  • Garland, Ron.(1991). Making Work Fun: Doing Business With a Sense of Humor. San Diego: Shamrock Press.
  • Kipler, B.A.(1990). 14,000 Things to be Happy About. New York: Workman.
  • Millman, Dan.(1984). Way of the Peaceful Warrior. Tiburon, Ca.: H.J. Kramer, Inc.
  • Morreal, J.(1983). Taking Laughter Seriously. Albany: State University of New York.
  • Paulson, Terry L.(1989). Making Humor Work. Los Altos, Ca.: Crisp Publications, Inc.
  • Paulson, Terry L.(1991). They Shoot Managers Don't They?: Managing Yourself and Leading Others in a Changing World. Berkley Ca.: Ten Speed Press.
  • Peter, L.J.& Dana, B.(1982). The Laughter Prescription. New York: Ballantine.
  • Robinson, Vera.(1977). Humor and Health Professions. New Jersey: Charles B. Slack, Inc.
  • Ross, Bob.(1992). That's a Good One: Corporate Leadership With Humor. San Marcos, Ca.: Avant Books.
  • Sheehy, G.(1981). Pathfinders. Toronto: Bantam.
  • Thompson, Charles. (1992). What a Great Idea: The Key Steps Creative People Take. New York: Harper.
  • Wilson, Steve.(1992). The Art of Mixing Work and Play. Advocate Publishing Group.
  • Zelinski, Ernie J.(1990). The Art of Seeing Double or Better in Business Edmonton: VIP Books.

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