How Humor and 'Giving Back' Can Improve Workforce Productivity

Mark Twain suggested that 'work and play are words used to describe the same thing under different conditions.' Employees do not necessarily associate the workplace as a 'fun' environment however companies can consider ways of creating energy and interest into the business without compromising productivity.

Stress in the workplace is becoming an increasingly challenging issue which is borne out by a recent report that suggested that the use of anti-depressants had increased by 40% in just the past four years. If you go back to the ancient times an investment in humor, courtesy of a court jester, was considered a necessity. Some American companies have even introduced a 'Director of Mirth' to co-ordinate fun in the workplace. Now this maybe a step too far for UK companies but I believe it is useful for senior management teams to introduce humor and fun where appropriate as research has shown an improvement in creativity and productivity where successfully implemented. John Cleese suggests that a sense of humor moves us from a closed to an open mode faster than anything else. Humor is also good for customer relations as a shared moment of amusement is one of the quickest ways to build good relationships. Humor can have a positive impact on your employees' health as research has shown that laughter extremely relaxes the body, lowering heart rate and blood pressure by promoting deeper breathing.

Giving something back gives people satisfaction and a sense of purpose. Many successful companies encourage their employees to enjoy working together to fundraise for local or national good causes.

Action 1 . Introduce an element of fun to the Monday morning briefing. A very simple way to do this is to introduce a competition between departments to predict the weekly sales or profit performance.

Action 2 . Consider ways of improving presentations to engage employees. Starting a presentation with a question or mini quiz stimulates interest. Use of images that are totally unrelated to the subject in hand can be effective as it creates inquiry. For example, I used a popular TV quiz show format to help the audience appreciate the targets we needed to hit to great effect.

Action 3 . Icebreakers are often used to warm colleagues up at meetings or conferences and it can be a challenge to come up with something a bit different. The best ones I've used involve people working in small teams to achieve a task. When sensing a drop in energy levels, initiate an impromptu massage session with each participant massaging the back and neck of the person next to them.

Action 4 . Add some light-heartedness to meetings. During breaks, consider introducing a fun game. It could involve something physical such as throwing balls into a waste paper basket or a mental challenge such as listing all the songs with a particular word in the title. It's even better if the word relates to a particular challenge that the group is working on. Saying that I can not think of many songs that have the word 'productivity' in the title!

Action 5 . If innovation is an essential requirement of your business, why not create a room to stimulate the creative juices? This could be as simple as painting the room a different color or colors and introducing a large white board to capture ideas. Replace traditional office furniture with colored cubes or exercise balls to create a totally different environment.

Action 6 . Get involved in a charity event. You do not need to create your own charity event. Find out what charitable events are already planned for your area which your company could support. For example, the British Heart Foundation organizes a variety of sponsored activities (hiking, swimming, or jogging and even parachuting) through the year and across the country.

Action 7 . Raising money does not need to involve completing a marathon or carrying out a three-peak challenge. It can simply mean wearing a particular piece of clothing for charity such a 'jeans for genes day' or a pink shirt for breast cancer awareness. Last year, I took part in a 'Movember' fundraising event and grew a much dodgy Seventhies-style moustache to raise money for The Prostate Cancer Charity.

Action 8 . Start an interest group for employees who want to learn a new skill or improve an existing one. For example, many people are interested in learning a new language and what better way to improve than to be able to practice on each other?