Laugh­ter still the best medicine

De­press­ing times need in­no­va­tive ways to cope

Finweek English Edition - - Business Strategy - ANDILE MAKHOLWA andilem@fin­

WITH RE­CES­SION MIS­ERIES rock­ing the cor­po­rate world and stress lev­els soar­ing among cor­po­rate big­wigs, a lit­tle bit of laugh­ter is per­haps what’s needed for a change. Ex­pe­ri­en­tial stud­ies show that laugh­ter – whether faked or real – re­duces de­pres­sion while en­hanc­ing staff morale in the work­force.

For ex­am­ple, a study on work­place laugh­ter (without hu­mour) by Beck­man, Regier and Young, pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Pri­mary Preven­tion (United States) sought to mea­sure the ef­fects of pur­pose­ful aer­o­bic laugh­ter on em­ploy­ees’ sense of ef­fi­cacy in the work­place. Pur­pose­ful laugh­ter is de­fined as ex­pe­ri­en­tial laugh­ter achieved without any joke told or comic act per­formed.

Martin Com­brinck, a cer­ti­fied yoga pro­fes­sional and trainer – whose Laugh­ter4Africa con­ducts laugh­ter ses­sions for cor­po­rate or­gan­i­sa­tions – says ses­sions are premised on fake laugh­ter, which then de­vel­ops into real laugh­ing. “The body doesn’t know the dif­fer­ence be­tween fake and real laugh­ter,” he says.

That may sound para­dox­i­cal if ex­er­cise is your curse. Af­ter all, who­ever thought laugh­ter should in­volve phys­i­cal ef­fort? But it seems stim­u­lated laugh­ter works just as ef­fec­tively as spon­ta­neous cack­les. If there was any doubt here’s what the Beck­man, Regier and Young study found: “Em­ploy­ees demon­strated a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in sev­eral dif­fer­ent as­pects of self-ef­fi­cacy, in­clud­ing self-reg­u­la­tion, op­ti­mism, pos­i­tive emo­tions and so­cial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and main­tained th­ese gains at fol­low-ups.”

That com­ple­ments our com­mon psy­cho­log­i­cal un­der­stand­ing that laugh­ter eases ten­sion and re­duces high blood pres­sure while pump­ing more oxy­gen into the brain, thereby en­hanc­ing men­tal ac­tiv­ity. “It makes you feel lighter and that you can cope with life,” Com­brinck says.

For cor­po­rates strug­gling to whip up con­fi­dence lev­els among em­ploy­ees, that’s strong medicine. Cer­tainly, tough times re­quire vol­umes of en­ergy in the work­force to cope with the daily grind.

Com­brinck says it’s a per­fect an­ti­dote to the doom and gloom af­flict­ing em­bat­tled cor­po­rates. In­deed, if (as economists say) the down­turn is a “tem­po­ral prob­lem”, laugh­ter is surely a per­fect tem­po­ral so­lu­tion to cop­ing in cur­rent times?

In In­dia – where the laugh­ter yoga con­cept orig­i­nates – stud­ies have con­firmed the ef­fi­cacy of laugh­ter in in­creas­ing cre­ativ­ity lev­els among em­ploy­ees of dis­tressed com­pany branches, such as in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy di­vi­sions, says Com­brinck.

He says the con­cept is now gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in SA, where sev­eral ma­jor cor­po­rate or­gan­i­sa­tions – in­clud­ing Pick n Pay, FNB, Metropoli­tan, Kumba Iron Ore, Old Mu­tual, Vir­gin Money and Quest Per­son­nel – have hired the ser­vices of Laugh­ter4Africa.

Pick n Pay’s Bron­wen Roh­land says the group has used laugh­ter yoga three times over the past cou­ple of months as part of a wider stress man­age­ment strat­egy for em­ploy­ees and team build­ing in the com­pany. “Pick n Pay re­alises per­sonal fit­ness en­com­passes both phys­i­cal as well as men­tal health,” she says.

“The re­sponse from em­ploy­ees has been very pos­i­tive and is still a talk­ing point and re­minder when sit­u­a­tions are tough and stress­ful. The team-build­ing that takes place dur­ing the process has re­ally brought in­di­vid­u­als closer to­gether and cre­ated a hap­pier work space.”

Fur­ther­more, Roh­land notes there’s a def­i­nite cor­re­la­tion be­tween hav­ing pos­i­tive peo­ple in your work en­vi­ron­ment and higher lev­els of en­ergy and pro­duc­tiv­ity as the laugh­ter yoga cre­ates an op­por­tu­nity to release work­place stress and has the abil­ity to bring about pow­er­ful pos­i­tive phys­i­o­log­i­cal changes to em­ploy­ees.

There you go: more in­ter­est­ing ways to en­hance pro­duc­tiv­ity. You’ll never know if it works un­til you’ve tried it.

The per­fect an­ti­dote to doom and gloom. Martin Com­brinck

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