Everyone wants to work in an office that boasts a positive environment and what better way to spread cheer than to have a good dose of humour on a daily basis. It can lift people’s spirits on a particularly stressful day and help to strengthen bonds between colleagues and even employers.

Steve Carlisle, the president of General Motors in Canada, believes that “having a sense of humour is part of the leadership package” as it can “help people feel more relaxed, more comfortable and thus be more effective at what they do”. It’s this perception that makes a Carlisle an effective boss because the ability to successfully use humour creates the image of a confident and competent professional.

How come? Because “being funny is taking a risk, and being risky shows confidence,” according to Professor Schweitzer of the University of Philadelphia. Those who tell good jokes display a level of intellect and empathy which others admire, as well as showing them to be someone to turn to when you’re in need of perking up during the working week.

Employers who regularly use humour around their staff are likely to develop stronger engagement with them and reduce the hierarchal tension that tends to follow those in a senior position. Anything that makes a boss more approachable for employees is certain to make workplace communication more effective as it makes people more comfortable when engaging with those in charge.

Plenty of research has been carried out in relation to humour in the workplace, with a 2006 study published in The Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management finding that emotional exhaustion was significantly reduced amongst healthcare workers when the atmosphere at work was a lot more fun. In another study from Vrije University Amsterdam, it was found that colleagues who made jokes around one another were more likely to provide statements that were supportive and constructive when it came to advising and providing feedback on work.

Professor Schweitzer suggests that self-deprecation jokes might be the best form of humour to use in the workplace because it humanises the joker and makes them more approachable to colleagues. Sarcasm can also be effective, however it’s best incorporated after good relationships have formed within the workplace to avoid offending anyone.

“It’s a particular type of social intelligence that not everyone uses or grasps,” Professor Adam Galinsky of Columbia Business School points out.

Any kind of humour needs to be considered before it’s utilised in a working environment, though, as it can do just as much harm as it does good. Employers who use humour risk offending their staff and potentially being faced with accusations like sexual harassment if it makes people feel uncomfortable. Jokes that are considered insulting or unfunny also tend to make the teller come across as incompetent, which is not great for those who hold a higher status in the business.

Caution is always advised, but a happy workplace is a productive one, and one filled with humour is sure to be highly beneficial to employers and employees alike.

James Darvill

James is a passionate scriptwriter and reluctant poet with a talent for the dystopian. When he’s not staying up late watching the Simpsons he’s beating the world at Mario Kart, always with a glass of wine in hand.
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