The Secret to Employee Retention is Actually Funny

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Laughter really is the best medicine — and there’s science to prove it. 

New research from the University of Kansas reveals that laughter is a predictor for satisfaction and success in romantic relationships. In other words, couples who laugh and make jokes together are more likely to be happy and stay together than those who don’t. 

Although romantic relationships are vastly different from those made in the workplace, the same concept applies — laughter is a powerful tool that brings people together. And it can improve your employee retention. 

How? Here’s a look at the science of laughter, how it can make your employees want to stick around, and how to infuse your work environment with laughter while still maintaining a level of professionalism:

Laughter Reaffirms Company Culture 

While laughter itself can make you feel good, these warm fuzzy feelings aren’t what strengthen bonds between people. According to the University of Kansas research, it’s really about laughing at the same things that draws people together. 

Your humor is a reflection of your own attitudes, interests, and behaviors. So when someone finds the same things funny as you, it shows they share similar feelings and beliefs. And when someone laughs at your jokes, it feels like they understand you. 

In this way, laughter reaffirms relationships. And in the same vein, laughter reaffirms your company culture, boosting employee retention. 

When co-workers laugh together, it renews their feeling of belonging to their team and to the organization as a whole. If your employees feel like they belong to a group of individuals who understand their point of view and have similar values, they’ll be more satisfied and less likely to jump ship. 

How to bring it to the office: Lead the way for employees and show them what appropriate humor looks like within your company culture. Try using memes, emojis, or YouTube videos in PowerPoint presentations, emails, chats, and other internal communications — and encourage your employees to do the same. Just make sure everyone is on the same page about when it is acceptable to crack a joke. For example, a team status meeting might be the perfect time to share that clip from Mean Girls, but it probably won’t be appreciated in a client pitch meeting. 

Laughter Encourages Creativity 

Laughter doesn’t just make people feel more connected — it also helps your employees feel safe and comfortable. 

Inside jokes help build a shared space between people, the University of Kansas report notes. Within that space, people feel more comfortable to take risks and embrace the unconventional.

In fact, research published by the Association for Psychological Science found that when humor and laughter are used in workplace meetings, it encourages participation and creative problem-solving. 

When teams joke and play around with each other, your employees feel more comfortable sharing their ideas, finding creative solutions, and taking risks. They’ll also feel empowered to try new ideas and take charge. In other words, they’ll be more engaged — and engagement is a great predictor for employee retention. When employees feel like their team is a safe sounding board for ideas and they have the freedom to use their creativity, they’ll want to stay onboard for the long-haul.

How to bring it to the office: Allow for inside jokes among employees — but keep an ear open for jokes that cross the line from playful to malicious. If you hear jokes at any single employee’s expense, nip it in the bud. Have a conversation with the team and review how mean-spirited jokes or those that single someone out aren’t appropriate and don’t align with the company culture. The key is to keep humor safe and humorous for everyone.

Laughter Reduces Stress

When relationships get tense or life becomes stressful, romantic partners often use laughter as a way to lighten the mood, according to the research from the University of Kansas. You can use humor in the same way to boost employee retention in your workplace. 

When employees laugh every day with their co-workers, they’ll feel less stressed overall. And if they can laugh through the tough stuff, they’ll be less likely to head for the hills when a last-minute project is dropped on their desk or when work suddenly ramps up. No office will ever truly be stress-free, but laughter can help relieve tension, lift moods, and make it a little easier to work through the hard times. 

How to bring it to the office: During stressful times, bring out the clowns. Encourage managers to send their teams supportive and humorous emails when they’re in the middle of a large project, or screen episodes of The Office in the breakroom after a team hits a tight deadline. Whatever your approach, be sure that the humor isn’t too much of a distraction from the tasks at hand. After all, there’s still work to be done! 

Want to learn about employee retention? Check out this blog article about passive candidates!

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Val Matta
Val Matta
Val Matta, Managing Director of CareerShift, co-founded the company in 2005 to help individuals bridge the gap between education and employment.  As a recognized expert in the field, Val is a frequent speaker on career management, networking, and job hunting strategies.  You can connect with her and the CareerShift team on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter.