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Laughing on the Job is No Laughing Matter

Some people love to shop. They can go into a mall and spend hours aimlessly wandering from shop to shop with absolutely no idea what they want to buy. I am not one of these people. I avoid shopping malls, and don’t enjoy wandering into a mall even when there’s something specific I need to buy.

On a recent business trip I stayed in a hotel adjacent to a major shopping mall. After taking a walk around the area, I ventured into one of the major department stores to look for a new tie. As I walked into the men’s department, I noticed two employees arranging some display shelves. They were talking and laughing out loud, and seemed to enjoy each other’s company.

As I entered the store, they stopped their conversation to greet me and ask if I needed help. After I informed them I was just looking, they went back to their conversation. Within a minute, both employees started laughing hysterically. About that time a supervisor entered the department, approached the employees and said, “We don’t pay you to stand around and laugh. We have customers who need to be helped, so wipe the smile off your face and get back to work. You can laugh on your own time.”

You can laugh on your own time. What a slice of heaven it must be to work there. The employees did what they were told. With their head hung down, they went back to arranging the displays. Not only did it ruin their mood, it ruined mine. I left the store (without a new tie) and walked backed to my hotel. As I walked back, I couldn’t help but think about how many times in my career I worked for someone who thought the same way. Work should be serious, and laughter should be saved for another time.

When did it become unacceptable to laugh at work? Why do some people assume that if you’re laughing then there’s no way you’re working? I love to laugh, and I love to be around other people who love to laugh. I had always heard that research showed laughter was good for the body, so I started looking for some information to determine what effects laughter has on our life. I found a myriad of positive effects, including:

It’s good exercise

A study conducted in Dublin, Ireland shows that laughter causes a rise in blood pressure, and another study shows that blood pressure drops for a time when we stop laughing. Basically, it’s similar to aerobic exercise, and given the choice of spending time on a treadmill or laughing, I’ll go find myself a joke book. Or even better, I’ll spend some time on a treadmill reading a joke book and get twice the exercise. It gives a whole new meaning to “laughing your butt off”.

It boosts your immune system

Dr. Lee Berk, a professor at Loma Linda University and well-respected researcher on the effects of laughter, has conducted numerous studies to show what laughing can do to the body. His studies have shown that “laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases muscle flexion, and boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and B-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies. Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being.” That’s a fancy way of saying that laughing is good for you.

It can help you deal with change

Beyond what it can do to our bodies, laughter has a profound psychological impact. Herbert Lefcourt, a psychologist at the University of Waterloo, conducted research that showed that the ability to appreciate humor can “buffer the mood disturbances” that happen in response to the crud in our life. Based on that, since much of the crud (my term, not his) is the result of significant changes from the norm, laughter can help us deal with change. I’m not sure I know a single person who couldn’t benefit from doing a better job dealing with change — both at work and at home.

We all have issues to handle. Some have minor issues, and others are faced with life-changing difficulties. It’s often hard to laugh in the midst of the big stuff, but sometimes we can help ourselves through the hard times when we’re able to find a little humor. And besides, you simply can’t beat the benefits of laughter. I also read somewhere that if you were able to sustain a belly-laugh for one full hour, you could laugh off as many as 500 calories. Are you kidding me? Instead of getting up early to work out, I’m getting up and laughing for an hour. Then I’m going back to bed.

Clint Swindall

© 2016 Clint Swindall — Clint is the president & CEO of Verbalocity, Inc., a personal development company with a focus on leadership enhancement. For information about how he can enhance employee engagement in your organization, please visit, or contact him directly

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