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This one trait could be key to your promotion

Lucy Dean
·4-min read
Close up of handshake in the office
It's no joke - laughter can get you further. Image: Getty

When’s the last time you had a really good belly laugh?

The answer to that question could impact your success at work.

According to two Stanford academics, people tend to “fall off a humour cliff” when they enter the workforce, but injecting a sense of humour into work can lead to better workplaces and interpersonal relationships.

Stanford psychology professor Jennifer Aaker and Stanford lecturer Naomi Bagdonas studied the role of humour in the workplace and found that employers prefer employees with a sense of humour.

“When we ask people what holds them back from using humor at work, many believe that humour simply has no place amidst serious work. We’re worried about harming our credibility and not necessarily being taken seriously,” Aakers said on the Think Fast Talk Smart podcast.

“And yet in large scale studies that we run and that others have run, the large majority of leaders really prefer employees with a sense of humour and believe that employees with a sense of humour do better work.”

On top of that, a sense of humour can lead friends and peers to attribute perceptions of confidence, trust and high status, and make them more likely to vote funny people into leadership roles.

“Think about it. It used to be that leaders needed to be revered. And now they need to be understood. And all the while, humor is a particularly potent elixir for trust,” Bagdonas said.

She said that when we laugh, we release the oxytocin hormone which essentially works to form an emotional bond.

According to leadership expert Shadé Zahrai, the two things we’re judged on first at work are warmth and competence - both of which come down to feelings of trust.

And it’s not just in informal communications - using humour during presentations will trigger deeper focus among listeners, along with better long term retention.

“So in other words, using humor not only can make our content more engaging in the moment, but it also makes it more memorable after the fact,” Bagdonas said.

My jokes are terrible. What can I do?

You don’t need to be a stand-up comedian to reap the professional benefits of humour.

Bagdonas said the secret lies in the joy of humour, not necessarily the jokes. That means that being open to laughter is just as important as being funny.

Bagdonas and Aakers said there’s also a misconception that humour is something you either have or you don’t, but the reality is that not only do people have different types of humour, it can be taught.

The research comes as a mental health crisis looms. According to prominent mental health expert Patrick McGorry, Australia is facing a “second curve of mental ill-health and suicide".

Burnout costs the Australian economy $14 billion in lost productivity every year, and greater numbers of Australians are presenting with mental illness, community psychologist Marny Lishman told Yahoo Finance in April.

She said that while most of us spend hours reading news and scrolling through social media, absorbing bad news, humour can balance that out.

Comic and resilience expert Marty Wilson said that laughter is almost a mental switch which tells ourselves that if we’re laughing at a problem, we have some degree of control over it.

“A scientifically proven antidote to the fear and panic is keeping your sense of humour,” he said.

“Laughing gives us the breathing space we need to release tension, to recuperate, and to regain a positive outlook.”

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