Can a More Lighthearted Culture Boost Employee Engagement?

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LaughMany workplaces are going through a bit of a crisis. Staff engagement levels have been stagnating for many years, with the oft-cited Gallup poll showing that a massive 87 percent of employees are disengaged or actively disengaged, meaning they lack motivation, are unhappy, and — in extreme cases — are liable to spread negativity.

There are many contributing factors to this disengagement, such as a lack of job security, few career progression opportunities, a low-wage economy, bad management practices, and so on.

There are many potential solutions to this crisis, and one which I believe has not been explored enough is how changing to a more lighthearted company culture may be able to boost employee engagement. While money, benefits, and job security are obviously important to employees, this Randstad study showed that 49 percent of employees used pleasant work atmosphere as a key criteria when evaluating an employer. This suggests that there is much to be gained in terms of employee engagement by injecting some humor and levity into the office proceedings.

So, what steps can an employer take to bring some levity to corporate proceedings and give staff engagement a boost?

1. Build It Into Your Company Values

Start with your handbook and company values. In your handbook, encourage staff to use appropriate humor in the work environment to help to make the office more fun and work more enjoyable. Value laughter and acknowledge that it is a great, scientifically proven way to alleviate stress and see the lighter side of tough situations. Encourage staff to use humor in meetings and when working with colleagues — but keep the focus on positive, engaging humor that respects others; discourage put-downs and negative humor.

2. Hire People Who Can Use Humor Well in the Workplace

Now, this does not mean that you should hire any one who cracks a funny joke at an interview. You are not looking for a comedian; you are looking for someone who can look see the light side of difficult situations and the daily grind, someone who can bring appropriate humor and levity to working situations that makes others feel better while still being able to work effectively. Also, not everyone has this quality — some just aren’t built that way and have other strengths. It’s about striking a balance in the team.

3. Lead From the Top

There’s no point trying to build a more lighthearted culture if you are going to undermine it all with sour-faced managers and a frowning CEO. Accountability is essential, but blame is not. When troubles befall the company or individuals in the company, make sure your managers lead by example by avoiding blame, allowing for appropriate levity and humor while ensuring accountability and understanding going forwards. Encourage managers to use humor and take a more lighthearted approach when appropriate.

4. Fun Committee

Put together an employee-led and -inspired fun committee that has a budget and the remit to listen to employees and create initiatives which make it easier for employees to relax, switch off, take a break, and laugh.

Done well, taking a more lighthearted approach to certain areas of the business process can yield rewards in reducing employee stress levels and increasing staff engagement. I’d love to hear examples of how you have seen a more lighthearted approach to the work-place lead to increased staff engagement.

By Kazim Ladimeji