Stressed out? Smile – you're at work

Benefits of humor boost physical well-being, workplace coping

No kidding: Students whose professors or teachers use humor in test instructions score 15 percent higher on those tests than students provided with straight instructions.

That fun fact came courtesy of Mark Augustin and Katherine Skallerud during "Humor in the Workplace," a training presentation given Friday, May 7, at 1800 Grant St. by Organizational and Employee Development from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

People start out life ready to appreciate humor at every turn – the average 5-year-old laughs 400 times a day. But messages from childhood – "Grow up," "Wipe that smile off your face," "Get serious" – carry over into adulthood, resulting in grown-ups who laugh only 14 times a day.

Healthy doses of humor at work can reduce stress, boost mental flexibility and enhance productivity, the presenters said. Just 10 minutes of laughter throughout the course of a day has the same relaxation effect as two hours of sleep and the same aerobic benefit of completing 100 reps on a rowing machine.


To illustrate the therapeutic effects of humor, Skallerud showed a video clip of a yoga instructor who doesn't need to be told a joke to unleash some healthy belly laughs. The laughter, of course, was contagious.


Benefits of humor at work also included increased creativity, better attitudes for dealing with mistakes and improved relationships among colleagues.

How to up the humor quotient at work? Augustin and Skallerud provided these suggestions:

  • 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.
  • Encourage a tacky dress/goofy hat/funny T-shirt day.
  • Whatever else you are wearing, remember to wear a smile.
  • Start meetings with people sharing something funny that happened to them in the past week.
  • Create a comedy corner with appropriate books, cartoons, bulletin board displays, tapes, videos, games, toys, etc.
  • Voodoo doll.
  • Put appropriate jokes or cartoons on your memos and reports.

What joke to start with? Skallerud offered up this one, which researchers several years ago declared the funniest in the world, given its wide-ranging appeal to people of different nationalities, ages and backgrounds.