June 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Short Cuts June 1999 Current Issue
June 1999
Short Cuts:

funny business
Laughs for the health of it:
David Granirer

Did you hear the one about the guy who goes into companies to teach employees how to have a sense of humor? Well& There's actually no punch line here. In an era when stress is at a reported all-time high, companies are turning to the physiological and psychological benefits of a chuckle to break tension, improve productivity and strengthen morale.

"We wanted managers to lighten up," says Olivia McIvor, Vancouver-based human resources manager, British Columbia region, for Canada Trust Corp., a financial institution. McIvor hired a humor consultant as part of a wellness program that encourages employees to find a balance between work and life. "We get so busy sometimes that we forget to laugh," she says.

Humorist David Granirer was not brought in by McIvor to entertain. His mission was to teach managers that a few laughs during work hours can do a body and a business good. The Vancouver-based speaker talked about the notion that laughter actually suppresses negative feelings in the brain. Experts also have found that laughter reduces the production of stress-related chemicals in the body while increasing the amount of endorphins, the body's natural pain reliever. Blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension are below normal for as long as 45 minutes after a fit of giggles, research has demonstrated. A few good guffaws are even known to boost the immune system.

Moreover, a little levity is a valuable business tool, says humor consultant John Morreall, a philosophy professor at the Tampa campus of University of South Florida, who advocates using humor as a "social lubricant" when criticizing an employee or giving distressing news. "I don't mean that you're completely light about [the problem]," says Morreall. "It's about using humor to soften the blow."

For instance, at a Chase Manhattan bank in New York City, managers hung funny posters depicting mistakes routinely made by tellers instead of reprimanding the culprits. The bank claimed a 97 percent success rate in reducing errors. "When you don't chew someone out, they don't get on the defensive," says Morreall. "The comment becomes constructive, not threatening."

Some organizations are turning to humor consultants to lighten up a situation that is causing internal stress. A group of New Jersey hospitals, faced with a computer system changeover, brought in Morreall to design an introduction and training program for employees. The one-day session began when pallbearers entered the meeting room with a casket bearing the name of the old computer system. Following a eulogy, a representative from the manufacturer of the new system dressed only in a diaper and baby bonnet heralded the "birth" of the new system.

According to attendees, the visuals alone helped cut tension during the transition. When they became frustrated with the new computers, some employees would picture the diapered guy from the meeting, and they could not help but smile.


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