According to the CDC, absenteeism costs employers over $225 billion each year. “Presenteeism”, employees coming to work sick but not being fully productive, accounts for two-thirds of the total cost incurred by employees, according to Harvard Business Review. Employee wellness matters at work not only because you care about your employees; it affects the bottom line. Could something as seemingly “unimportant” or even “distracting” as laughter offer a solution to what Harvard researchers call the “800-pound gorilla” on the backs of companies? Let’s take a look!

The Health Benefits of Laughter

Laughter is our body’s natural stress relief mechanism. When we’re sad, getting upset or stressed out, an unexpected laugh provides relief. It helps us take a step back from our immediate response to see things more clearly. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter biologically impacts the body in some interesting ways.

Laughter:

  1. Stimulates the organs, which enhances their ability to receive more oxygen-rich blood, which energizes the body and mind.
  2. Causes endorphin-release, which leads to better feelings, a more positive outlook, fewer stressed feelings and improved productivityaccording to research by the Social Market Foundation in the UK.
  3. Soothes tension both internally and between individuals.

In the longer term, laughter:

  1. Protects organs and helps them heal faster and better.
  2. Reduces the recurrence and severity of chronic pain and many other chronic ailments.
  3. Improves personal satisfaction with one’s life, co-workers, job, etc.
  4. Relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety.

In the workplace, laughter makes connection and conversation between co-workers easier. Even if laughter may not be the most empathic response in a given work situation, being in a work environment where people laugh influences every interaction among employees.

Why It’s Not Easy to Get People to “Lighten Up”

For some, laughter doesn’t come easily. Certain conditions and life experiences can make people feel uncomfortable laughing, especially at work. Some such barriers might be:

  • Fear of seeming weak or vulnerable.
  • Social anxiety.
  • Past abusive work relationships.

If people in the workplace have genuine barriers like these, then simply telling people to “lighten up” often has the opposite intended effect. When people have built a wall around themselves, you can’t tear it down from the outside. You need to facilitate a safe place where they can begin to lower their defenses and laugh more.

 

How Improv Facilitates Laughter in the Workplace

Improvisation has the unique ability to help people get out of their head and into the present moment. Improv asks them to:

  • Act quickly without thinking.
  • Find creative, non-linear solutions.
  • Closely observe others in order to complement their actions, enhancing empathy.

For people who may not be accustomed to interacting in such a care-free way, this can:

  • Provide ample opportunities for spontaneous laughter.
  • Offer positive reinforcement as others laugh with those “performing”.
  • Give them a safe environment to express themselves.

Workplaces that employ improv help build employee empathy and a workplace where people are:

  • At ease with each other.
  • More connected.
  • Better able to resolve differences because they’re more constructively open about their thoughts and feelings.
  • Better able to understand and interpret facial expressions and gestures, which are very important for workplace empathy.

 

Build a healthier, happier workplace where people appreciate a good laugh, their jobs and each other. Laugh more for your health and facilitate more workplace laughter for a more empathic workplace.


Empathic Workplace offers an applied improv approach to team building, communication and learning emotional intelligence for executives, managers and employees.

A few example modules include:

  • Magic Words: Communication and “Yes, And”
  • On the Spot: Public Speaking and Performance Anxiety/Stage Fright
  • Heal Thyself: Humor and Self Care
  • Let Go: Stress Reduction Through Improv
  • Us is More: Group Mind and Team-Building
  • Feelin’ It: Emotional Intelligence and Empathy
  • and many more . . .