It’s hard to believe…it’s holiday time again! The time of the year when we can be a bit more light-hearted…right?

With all the right-sizing, wrong-sizing, down-sizing and messages of doom and gloom in today’s world, many gloomy faces are present in the workplace. Changes in the financial services and credit markets and a roller coaster stock market over the past several weeks have created more anxiety than ever.

There is good news out there! “Change has come…” Barrack said, and as the transition of power continues, our president-elect and his new cabinet are being considered some of the most intelligent and experienced professionals to face and, over time, solve the many challenges ahead of them these next four years. During this time of transition and change, let’s remember to focus on patience, perseverance, positive…and, yes, let’s add, a couple more - laughter and fun!

As more and more changes take place, more and more stress may grip our faces (and those of our employees) causing smiling and laughing to subside and sometimes disappear. Are you feeling it? In spite of all that is going on personally and/or professionally, we need to remember to laugh, especially at ourselves! Maybe you’ve heard me say, “I used to be six feet tall; look what happened from so many years in the corporate world!” (Referring to my 5 feet 2 inch height) For the past few years, I’ve been adding a positive ending to that comment, “In my eyes, I’m six feet tall and on ‘the grow!’” A little fun, a little laughter…
How sad for all of us in our society and in our workplaces! We know that laughter is important to healing and controlling stress. However, somewhere along the line, we decided that laughter in the workplace, while fun, is trite and unproductive. Productive people don’t laugh at work. We must present a professional image of being in control! So “they” say…whoever “they” are…
Laughter means out of control. Your muscles relax, your face contorts; you gasp for air, and can’t talk. Dignified and professional is not the image you portray at that moment in time. But, oh does it feel good!
It’s hard to believe that as we laugh, we release anxiety and frustration and are better able to cope and enjoy things, but it’s true. And we don’t have to pay for laughter, flip a switch to turn it on, download it or have it constructed! It’s so simple – almost too simple to be a long term answer for feeling better!
Laughter, by the way, is not the same thing as humor. Humor is only one trigger for laughter, although a really good one. Other triggers might be tense or boring situations, absurd things happening at serious moments, embarrassment, or the uncomplicated, unsophisticated truth. Laughter is our body’s way of giving us a break from anxiety, frustration, and irritation. Without that release, we will grow increasingly serious and stressed. What a thought!

I have always been a believer of (appropriate) fun and laughter at work. Anyone who has ever worked with me will attest to that, I’m sure! In one of my other lives, I managed several bank branches for many years and no matter what location, I made sure that we had some fun and laughter every day. Here are some of the things the staff and I enjoyed doing: a 4:00 p.m. “coffee break” during the lull in the customer action on our late night every Friday (with coffee made and served by me to my employees); monthly “cook-in’s” where everyone brought their favorite dish to share for lunch; decorations for various holidays and sporting events; costumes (no masks) for Halloween; regular internal sales contests with a goody basket to select from; holiday cookie swaps; staff birthday and other milestone event celebrations, and much more… P.S. Employee turnover and absenteeism were practically non-existent, customers loved coming in to our branches…and brought us more and more of their business and referrals! These branches became some of the most successful branches in our region! A positive workplace means…laughter, fun and results!

In yet another one of my (financial services) lives, I was responsible for managing the “employee strategy” in partnership with the CEO and executive officers. Much of my work revolved around the (68 scaled response question) employee survey – from the planning stage, through administration, results generation, to oversight of ensuing cross-functional action plans and behavioral changes that led to improved results! I still remember - Question # 46, “I have fun at work” – and the many reasons it was important to ask! Talk about taking the pulse of your organization! Since then, many articles, even dedicated businesses and websites on the subject that have sprung up to reinforce the issue. To give you some ideas…just google “fun at work” and see what happens!

For the pragmatic and logical people out there, you may be thinking: “What is the practical value of a fun workplace? How can we create a workplace that is both fun and focused on business results? Is it even possible?” You know my response – positively!
One major source of laughter is stress- related tension when we treat it playfully. These days, we have tension and stress to spare! So a source of laughter is no problem. Humor can help us figure out how to play with our feelings while we continue to produce. We do a lot of senseless things that are very funny! Have you ever thought about why we go to the gym to work out furiously but will drive endlessly around a shopping center parking lot looking for a spot closer to the door? Why we drink bottled water because it’s healthier, but we use it to wash down such things as hamburgers, french fries, candy, and buttered popcorn?
Think about some of the crazy, senseless things we do at work…Laughing at ourselves can lift our mood and erase a lot of frustration.
Letting your hair down and playing with a few simple, mindless toys during stress breaks at work will also help. (The key word here is mindless.) If you can’t openly play, think playfully. A little chatter with colleagues can also really perk up a day. Take your breaks, talk with friends, take a walk, and laugh at yourself! What a stress buster!
The serious aspect of your work is a constant. If you can develop an appropriate, playful attitude for yourself at work, at the end of the day, you’ll have accomplished a great deal of serious work in a light-hearted way. You can leave for home with positive energy to spare. Wouldn’t that be terrific?
Americans are hard working people. We are famous world-wide for our standard of living, our openness, and our ingenuity. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were also known for our ability to laugh and for the resulting warmth and positive energy laughter would contribute to our work, business success, and our total way of life?
So with all of this being said, it seems to me that if we can allow ourselves and our employees more fun and laughter at work, we will all feel less overwhelmed and better able to do our jobs. An appropriate fun workplace environment will set an open, friendly tone for collaboration and teamwork. A healthy attitude, laughter and spirit of fun will help us enjoy our work, feel more positive about the organization and feel more connected to the people we work with each day. Laughter creates bonds and helps to forge the all important “P2P” connections and partnerships between managers and employees. Employees will want to come to work! Novel idea…
It’s proven…When you laugh, there is an increase in natural killer cells, a decrease in blood pressure, burnout disappears and you’re not stressed! You can slow down the frenetic pace you may be caught in and view things from a different perspective – from the corners of a smile -- where all things will seem more manageable. You and your employees may even become more engaged, more productive, deliver finer customer service and improve business results! And… even enjoy the holidays!
Give the gift of smiles, laughter and fun this holiday season…and watch what happens!

Author's Bio: 

Mary Jane (MJ) Paris, Founder and President of Positive Impact Consulting Services, LLC in Shelton, CT, brings a broad base of experience to her practice gained from more than 25 years in people management, sales, retail banking, training, recruiting, coaching, project management, event planning and community leadership.

With a focus on “The Positive Workplace,” MJ and Positive Impact specialize in leadership and professional development programs, speaking engagements, and small business coaching that bring “Positive Energy” to your workplace. Engage employees, maximize productivity, improve customer service and business results…