Traveling is never easy, but I recently experienced my own "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" moment when I had to laugh to keep from crying.

I had to fly to Florida to attend a business conference, and because my watch was slow, I ended up missing my flight. It took more than four hours before I could board the next flight to Orlando, but I eventually arrived at the hotel — only to be told by the receptionist that she had never heard of the conference I was supposed to be attending.

As it turns out, the conference was actually in Fort Lauderdale, but I had mistakenly booked a flight to Orlando. I was in the wrong city.

So I went back to the airport, where I had to deal with every other possible problem. My license was expired, I had to wait for my bag to get back from the plane so I could check it, and the airline charged me for every nickel and dime it could. And guess what? I ended up missing that flight, too. In the end, I had to take an Uber from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale — a three-hour drive. (At least I got to know my Uber driver, Elvis, quite well.)

It's during situations like these that you just have to laugh. Business leaders are faced with stress every single day. Some worry about finances, others worry about work-life balance, and some (like me) worry about their employees. I know my employees have families to support, medical bills to pay, and parents to take care of, and those concerns are far more likely to cause me temporary bouts of insomnia than what a spreadsheet says.

Shocking, right? Isn’t anxiety part and parcel to being an executive? According to one Bank of America survey, 41 percent of company owners say managing day-to-day operations is keeping them awake at night. (The real question is what are the other 59 percent doing that they're not feeling stressed about work?) Regardless, it’s a huge indication that everyone at the top could use an injection of pure humor to smooth out the rough patches and push away the mental gremlins.

 

Alison-Shaq-bkgd.jpgFinding Laughter in Everyday Business

After a long and tough day, all I have to do to cheer up is look at Shaquille O'Neal — a cardboard cut-out, anyway. In my office, I have a life-size picture of the two of us together. It's quite the sight — my 4'10" self comes up to the 7'3" basketball player's waist. He looks like he's choking me, and I look absolutely giddy. It's an instant de-stressor, and it's hard not to chuckle when you see it.

Of course, we can’t always rely on former professional basketball players to keep us in stitches when we’re enmeshed in the daily grind. That’s why we have to learn to laugh at ourselves when we make mistakes, even though everyone assumes C-suite executives have to be buttoned-up all the time. We also have to foster environments where people feel comfortable telling funny stories about themselves without worrying about repercussions.

Why the need for an occasional giggle during work to lighten the mood? A Gallup study found that men and women ages 35 and older laugh a paltry 15 times a day. That’s 385 fewer times than the average infant — and face it, have you ever seen a stressed-out baby? When we join in a lighthearted moment, we not only bond as a team, but we also let go of pent-up tension. Nothing fosters innovation more than a hearty belly laugh.

Think the majority of your staff members might be hesitant to let loose? Get over your worries. Humor can and does make business leaders and their employees more productive and successful, and there are a few simple ways to create a humor-appreciative workplace:

1. Use comedic analogies to educate and inspire.

While you might think that discussing your yearly KPIs and business goals is absolutely riveting, your employees might disagree. To keep them engaged, find a funny way to connect the dots between all your information. Plus, peppering meetings with a bit of comedy can make complicated procedures and information seem less daunting. If you're struggling to find ways to add humor, try introducing laugh yoga (yes, it exists) into your meetings to lighten the mood and encourage some giggles.

2. Encourage after-hours team bonding.

When people get together, they naturally tell stories — and chances are that some of those tales will be absolutely hilarious. While you can’t force everyone to attend happy hours, you can urge employees to get together off the clock for colleague gatherings. Be sure you’re in attendance, too, and be prepared to share your most embarrassing goofs (because honestly, who doesn't want to hear about the time their boss embarrassed herself?).

3. Talk about your emotional state after a good laugh.

It’s been a tense day. Everyone’s on edge. Suddenly, something wacky happens and everybody — even the gal who never lets her hair down — cracks up. After you’ve composed yourselves, be honest about how glad you are that the laughter cleared the air. Let others join the conversation and conduct a mini reflection discussion on the spot. This can help your workers see how valuable humor is for you and them.

4. Be balanced in your approach to workplace humor.

While you definitely want your team to feel open to humor, be sure you don’t take everything too far. Humor has its time and place and should always be in appropriate taste for the company and occasion. Allow yourself to laugh and learn, but never make light of any situation that calls for seriousness. Your employees will inevitably pick up on your boundaries and follow suit.

Can’t recall the last time you laughed? Tune in to your favorite comedy on Netflix, or order up a goofy movie to watch with your family. You’ll be amazed by how much brighter the world seems after spending time wiping away tears of joy, not stress.