Tackling employee mental health issues through laughter

Sharon Pegg, Founder & Director of Northern Powerhouse Consulting

The global pandemic has taken a major toll on employee mental health. The impact of the virus on psychological wellbeing has been just as devastating as the physical effects. Reports have shown that over one-third of employees have displayed signs of depression and anxiety since the pandemic took hold – with that number rising to 55% for those struggling financially.

Stress levels are high, but there are simple things that employers can do to make a big difference, according to Huddersfield-based specialist HR consultant Sharon Pegg of Northern Powerhouse Consulting.

“The past 12 months have been extremely tough for many leaders and their teams, facing both physical and emotional issues. However, there are simple steps that employers can take to boost employee wellbeing. One of those is using the power of laughter. Since the sharp rise in remote working, creating laughter at work may have become harder, or even feel like a distant memory. But laughter can have a directly positive impact on stress.

Physically, it stimulates your lungs, heart and muscles. It increases your heart rate and the amount of oxygen in your blood, which can improve vascular function and decrease the risk of heart attacks. It can also boost the immune system, helping you to release infection-fighting antibodies and neuropeptides that help fight stress.

Mentally, laughing has a big impact too. When we laugh it increases the number of “feel-good” endorphins in the body and reduces the level of the stress hormone Cortisol. Laughing gives your brain a break from all the stress and anxiety and produces a general sense of wellbeing which can diffuse anger and depression. A shared laugh with a coworker can help you feel more connected to that person and form a strong and lasting bond. It can also heal past disagreements or resentments and improve working relationships.”

With all the seriousness that work brings, we tend to forget how important it is to make time for laughter. Yet this Friday is Red Nose Day and a great opportunity to have a giggle with your team. As Comic Relief says, “Funny can change things. It can connect us. It can be the difference.” Sharon sets out five ways you can promote laughter at work:
• Create a Pinterest board: Start a Pinterest board full of things that make you laugh, like quotes or hilarious pictures. Next time you find something on the internet that makes you smile, pin it to your board and share it with your team at the next meeting. Or get team members to take turns to share something that makes them laugh.
• Listen to a funny podcast: Start your day off with a laugh, and then replay one of the funniest parts to your team.
• Try laughter yoga: Laughter yoga is a new take on yoga that encourages prolonged voluntary laughter. Begin your next team meeting with a laughter yoga session.
• Alter the environment: Encourage your team to reshape their work area to include things that make them smile, like a picture with friends from a funny night out.
• Share funny YouTube videos: Search anything from jumping cats to funny clips from favourite tv shows for a fast and easy pick-me-up.

Sharon continued, “If you’re just not a funny YouTube cat videos kind of person, I would strongly encourage you to consider introducing mindful meditation to your team. Meditation can be hugely beneficial to your employees’ productivity and help decrease stress both for you and your employees.

Having a 30-day challenge can help boost your employees’ ability to focus, as well as decrease their stress levels. It’s undoubtedly a stressful time on a global scale. Having a community activity that brings your team together will help develop a support network that will last well after the pandemic restrictions are over.”