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Employee Engagement Goal: Encourage Laughter

January 22, 2014
at 7:27 am PST

I like to laugh. I find humor in all sorts of places and situations. Often unlikely ones. I’ve laughed in the most appropriate of situations and some of the most awkward. And I laugh at work. A lot.

Frankly, I think the Food and Drug Administration should have a recommended daily allowance for laughter along the lines of those identified for Vitamin C, Iron, and Riboflavin.

Peter Bregman recently had a great post on Harvard Business Review blog network. In “Why You Should Treat Laughter as a Metric,” Bregman writes about the lack of laughter as a symptom of a problem within organizations. And he suggests that increasing the opportunity for laughter should be a leadership priority.

Laughter = Focus
Bregman emphasizes the fact that laughter requires you to be present and focused. You can’t laugh if you’re distracted or multitasking. As an example, he asks that you consider recent phone conversations – and what you were doing at the same time. Guilty as charged.

I hadn’t thought about it much, but the most productive (and entertaining) conversations and conference calls are the ones when I’ve been focused. When I’m fully engaged, I get the most from the conversation, have the opportunity to provide the most value, and I catch the opportunities to see humor – sometimes expressed out loud, sometimes more quietly via instant message to a colleague. (Hey, I admit it.)

In just a decade, we quickly came to believe that multitasking was a sign of dedication and productivity. And we often do it because we’re essentially encouraged to do it in order to meet expectations. Technology certainly makes it possible.

Web conferencing lets me meet with people over distance, but I can also have other windows open on my desktop that beg attention at the same time. It’s not impossible to do the same thing in an in-person meeting, but it’s not as easy. Or as tempting. And if I let it, that instant messaging indicator blipping in the corner can easily drag me away from a project that demands focus – it’s just a harmless little click, right?

We’ve reached a point where we sit in meetings preparing for other meetings, going through e-mail, or responding to instant messages. It’s hard to focus on one thing at a time. We may be doing many things at once, but how productive is our frenzy? How good is it for morale? Are we more likely to be frustrated and stressed versus amused and laughing?

What to Do? What to Do?
As employees, we can be more aware and catch ourselves when we’re dividing our attention into bits and pieces. For some people that may mean making a list that clearly prioritizes projects so that we’re not trying to do bits of multiple things at the same time. For others it may be as simple as a post-it or sign in our work areas that reminds us to focus.

As managers, we can listen. Listen for laughter. Watch for signs of humor and amusement. If the laughter isn’t loud enough, consider the expectations and environment you’ve created for your teams. And consider the example we set.

Ask Yourself
Are you fully engaged in meetings?
Do you encourage humor and laughter?
Do you laugh out loud?

Learn more about using collaboration technology to improve employee engagement.

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2 Comments.


  1. You are absolutely right that doing more things at once doesn't automatically mean you are more productive. Your brain can only handle so much at once and still take everything in. By creating an evironment where people are comfortable laughing you not only get their attention, you make for a good place to come to work each day.

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    • Kim Austin

      Bob ~ Thanks for the comment. When I catch myself trying to do too many things at once, I picture a circus clown juggling random objects. And then comes the chainsaw... There's definitely no laughing when there's a chainsaw in the air. On the flip side, when working with people on my team, I try to make sure I'm not tossing any chainsaws in their direction. ~ Kim

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