For the Big Bucks, Try a Little Yuk Yuk

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, July 6, 2008

Should companies use levity to boost their bottom line? Could laughter help firms keep workers?

Authors Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher say absolutely.

In their book, "The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up" (Wiley, $22.95), Gostick and Christopher contend that having fun while you work or working at a company that values humor can help attract and retain employees, provide a competitive advantage and spark creativity.

"Managers who lead with levity benefit from higher levels of employee engagement and overall success," they write.

Right about now, there are a lot of workplaces that could use some laughter. The national unemployment rate in May increased a full percentage point, to 5.5 percent, compared with May 2007 before leveling off last month. Layoffs from the auto to housing industries have decimated companies and morale.

Most recently, Starbucks announced plans to close 600 company-operated stores in the next year, reducing its workforce by about 12,000, or 7 percent.

We focus on the unfortunate who leave, but what about those who stay behind and have to deal with fewer bodies and more work and additional pressure? It would seem to me employees not losing their jobs need something to lighten their spirits.

So I've selected "The Levity Effect" for the July Color of Money Book Club. This book, written like a case study of the benefits of humor, could help many managers see that laughter is good for business. Gostick is the author of "The Invisible Employee" and "The Carrot Principle," both of which made the New York Times bestseller list. Christopher is a regular columnist for Workplace HR & Safety magazine.

A lot of evidence backs up Gostick and Christopher's case for levity. A nationwide study of 1,000 Australian employees showed that a growing number of workers were turning to humor to help cope with the stresses of the modern workplace. The survey found that 80 percent of the Australian workforce regularly incorporated laughter into the daily work routine to combat work-related stress.

A survey a few years ago by the Society for Human Resource Management found that more than three-quarters of respondents thought companies that promote fun at work are more effective than companies that do not.

Year after year, the Great Place to Work Institute finds that companies on Fortune's 100 Best Companies score high when employees are asked: "Is this a fun place to work?"

The accounting and finance-staffing company Robert Half found last year in a survey that people love a leader who can laugh. Sixty-five percent of workers surveyed said it was very important for managers to have a sense of humor.

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