Positive Emotions: Can You Be Fired for Laughing?

If positive emotions are so essential for engaging employees and customers, how can you use that research as a leader? Do you encourage laughter at work? Some companies don’t…

It’s not a joke: in the 1930s and 1940s, laughter at the Ford Motor Company was prohibited. British management scholar David Collinson tells the tale of a Ford worker who was fired after being “caught in the act of smiling” and “slowing down the line maybe half a minute.”

Professor Collinson writes about humor in a Journal of Management Studies article called Managing Humour.

Actually, levity can improve the bottom line. Just ask employees and leaders at stellar companies such as Southwest Airlines and Zappos, where fun is part of the culture. Apparently, “managing to have fun” is not some fluffy training technique but a valuable tool for high performance.

I love this quote by Paul Hawken: “Laughter and good humor are the canaries in the mine of commerce – when the laughter dies, it’s an early warning that life is ebbing from the enterprise.”

We are seeing more and more studies that prove that people who are in a good mood are more likely to think creatively. Providing recognition, challenging assignments and fun work spaces all foster positive moods.

In The Levity Effect, authors Adrian Gostick and Christopher Scott discuss studies showing that lightheartedness increases creative ideas. In one such research experiment, watching a comedy increased creativity in brainstorming groups. In another, humor in divisive work groups cultivated a climate in which creative, playful and unconventional problem-solving could mature.

How much fun are you having at work? Seriously. Amid so many natural disasters, global civil unrest, and our own business and economic recovery to deal with, it may seem out of place to look for ways to enjoy work.

But it’s essential to peak performance and motivation. Without tapping into play and imagination, we won’t light up our brains to full potential.

Play isn’t just something you do on break. Any activity which involves the imagination lights up our brains and produces creative thoughts and ideas. It boosts morale, reduces fatigue, and brings joy to our work days.

So how do you encourage fun in ways that are beneficial to everyone? Here are a few tips managers can use to stimulate imaginative thinking:

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Encourage everyone to produce three new ideas each month
  • Allow for irreverence or goofiness (without disrespect) and model these yourself
  • Brainstorm
  • Reward new ideas and innovations
  • Encourage people to question everything

Play is any activity of the mind that allows you to dream up novel approaches and fresh plans. How can you start having more fun at work?

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