Entering the world of work triggers a sense of humour failure

No laughing matter: Entering the world of work triggers a sense of humour failure that is not reversed until we retire, researchers claim

  • Experts from the US polled 1.4 million people about humour in the workplace
  • They found that people’s daily laughter rate drops significantly around age 23 
  • Humour is a victim of the stifling formality of many workplace cultures, they said 
  • The researchers described their findings in their new book — ‘Humor, Seriously’

Entering the workforce can kill one’s sense of humour — and the damage is not undone until well after one retires late in life — researchers have warned.

Business scholars from California surveyed over a million people to explore how they use levity in the workplace — and to see how our laughter changes with time.

They found that — as they strive to conform to the formal atmosphere of many offices — people typically end up laughing significantly less after the age of 23. 

Entering the workforce can kill one’s sense of humour — and the damage, pictured, is not undone until well after one retires late in life — researchers have warned (stock image)

‘The collective loss of our sense of humour is a serious problem afflicting people and organisations globally,’ explained psychologist Jennifer Aaker of the Stanford Graduate School of Business in California.

In her work, Professor Aaker and her colleague Naomi Bagdonas — a management specialist — conducted a survey into workplace humour and happiness.

They polled around 1.4 million people of various ages from across 166 different countries, the Times reported.

The researchers found that the frequency at which people laugh and smile tends to drop significantly at around the age of 23.

In fact, the average four-year-old child laughs as many as 300 times each day — while the typical 40-year-old would take some ten weeks to rack up the same count. 

This is a trend that the pair attribute, in no small part, to the humourless and stiflingly formal environment cultivated in many workplaces.

‘We grow up, enter the workforce and suddenly become “serious and important people”, trading laughter for ties and pantsuits,’ the duo explained. 

The researchers found that the frequency at which people laugh and smile tends to drop significantly at around the age of 23. ‘We grow up, enter the workforce and suddenly become “serious and important people”, trading laughter for ties and pantsuits,’ the team explained

Since 2017, Professor Aaker and Ms Bagdonas have co-taught a lecture course to students at Stanford entitled ‘Humor: Serious Business’.

‘We teach some of the world’s most ambitious, smart, and caffeine-addled business minds how to use humour and levity to transform their future organisations and lives,’ the duo explained.

‘Our MBA [Master of Business Administration] students get the same amount of academic credit for our course about the power of humour as they do for Managerial Accounting and Financial Trading Strategies.’

The full findings of the duo’s research is published in their new book, ‘Humor, Seriously’. 

SUPRESSING EMOTION AT WORK CAN LEAD TO ANXIETY 

Experts from the University of Toronto Scarborough found in 2018 that the most prominent causes of workplace anxiety include jobs that require constant expression or suppression of emotion — think ‘service with a smile’.

Also anxiety-inducing are jobs with constant looming deadlines or frequent organisational change.

Office politics and control over work are other important factors. Employee characteristics including age, gender and job tenure can also affect the experience of workplace anxiety.

‘Managing anxiety can be done by recognising and addressing triggers of workplace anxiety, but also being aware of how to leverage it in order to drive performance,’ says Lead author Bonnie Hayden Cheng .

She says there are many strategies organisations can use to help employees. 

Some of these include training to help boost self-confidence, offering tools and resources to perform tasks at work, and equipping employees with strategies to recognise, use, and manage feelings of anxiety.

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