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There are many ways to increase productivity and build a united team in your business. Having fun at work is one way to achieve these goals.

During COVID, many staff worked remotely, and many have still not returned full time to the office and that may be the case for a long time to come. With that in mind, it is past time to think about how we increase productivity and build united teams with a physically dislocated workplace. One way is to introduce laughter.

Laughter is a defining characteristic of the human species. Children laugh around 300 times a day whereas adults laugh only 15-17 times. One of the reasons for this difference is the workplace. We spend a third of our waking hours at work and, sadly, many of us do not find it an enjoyable environment.

I have long recognized the contagious power of laughter and have never accepted that being in “corporate mode” means you have to wear a serious face all day. On the contrary, I actually encourage people to laugh, chuckle and joke. Consistent with this, one of the corporate values in my funds management career was to “have fun.”

While I was not my former company’s official court jester, I did my best each day to inject some infectious humour into the office. My PA, used to wear the brunt of my corny jokes. I played the comic where appropriate as I know from personal experience that employees are much happier, less stressed and more productive in workplaces where humour is encouraged.

“Laughter above all is a social thing,” says Dr Robert R. Provine, a behavioural neuroscientist at the University of Maryland and author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. Laughter is about relationships which is why “the requirement for laughter is another person’’, writes Provine.

Provine spent a decade studying laughter and is considered the world’s leading scientific expert on the science of “Ha-Ha-Ha”. He views laughter as a “vocal signal” which “almost disappears” when there is no audience. By studying “laugh episodes,” Provine discovered that people who are by themselves are 30 times less likely to laugh than if they were in a social situation.

I didn’t need to read anyone’s book to know that laughter is one of the best ways to warm up a relationship. Laughter creates a bond that brings people together. It also produces a positive emotional climate at home and in the workplace and there should be more of it.

Regrettably, many bosses believe it’s unbecoming of a leader to be funny. Now that’s a bad joke! John F. Kennedy was unusual among U.S. presidents in having both a presence of command and an excellent sense of humour. Good one, Mr President!

I have long believed that one of the great unsung leadership tools is a sense of humour. Stern-faced and tough-minded leaders don’t necessarily get the best out of people. In my opinion, work does not need to be serious business. Good humour and high productivity are not mutually exclusive. Employers should see the lighter side of things and strive to make their organisation a great place to work.

This is more important than ever as we’ve just come through the worst Pandemic in 100 years. Many companies had to downsize and let go of good people. Others cannot find enough staff! Those who retained their jobs are working harder and longer than before. Getting more out of less is now the mantra of many organisations and stress is at an all-time high for countless workers.

In the face of sobering economic shocks, it’s still possible to make work fun – just ask search giant, Google. Its corporate headquarters in Silicon Valley California – called Googolplex – boasts unparalleled employee perks and benefits. These include a climbing wall, two swimming pools, seven fitness centres, eighteen cafeterias and multiple volleyball courts. Google employees – called Googlers – love working for the company and many others would like too as well. Apparently, Google receives over one million job applications each year and hires only about 0.05 percent of applicants. Wow!

While (unfortunately!) businesses that I previously lead did not have the same facilities as Google; they nonetheless were (hopefully) fun places to work. Fun happens when there’s mutual respect and open communication. This leads to high staff satisfaction and happy employees who provide better customer service – that was certainly my experience.

I’ll leave the last word on this important topic to legendary inventor, Thomas Edison, who famously said: “I never did a day’s work in my life – it was all fun.

John (JT) Thomas

This opinion piece is provided by John (JT) Thomas, a 46-year veteran of the financial services industry and since 1987 a specialist in commercial mortgage funds. Considered by many to be the father of the modern commercial mortgage fund sector, JT helped establish and then managed – for 17 years – what became the largest and most successful commercial mortgage fund in Australia – The Howard Mortgage Trust – with assets exceeding $3 billion. Under JT’s stewardship, investors never lost one cent of their investments and indeed, investors always received competitive monthly returns. JT was also Chair of the $40 billion mortgage trust industry sector working group.

JT has been proudly involved with Princeton for nine years and sits on both the Princeton Credit Committee and the Princeton Compliance Committee as well as being an advisor to the Princeton Board.

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