How beneficial is humour in the workplace?

Among the general population, many enjoy a good laugh, a witty retort and even the odd prank from time to time.  

In the workplace, certain institutions such as the chain joke email and funny cat pictures are still going strong and in less formal situations especially, individuals are becoming more open and candid in their interactions.

Is it time for firms to start thinking seriously about how humour plays into the office environment? While some forms of humour can bring a number of benefits to workplace relations, there are some important considerations to ensure a joke doesn't fall flat. 

The benefits of positive humour

According to research published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology, the use of humour can result in reduced stress. Making jokes is a popular coping mechanism and can strengthen the relationship between team members during trying times. 

Humour can help teams cope during stressful times.Humour can help teams cope during stressful times.

However, the researchers pointed out the importance of ensuring jokes do not descend into derogatory comments or other discriminatory behaviour. As well as raising potential legal issues, negative humour can create tension amongst employees and lead to higher rates of conflict.

A joint study from the University of Warwick and the University of Hong Kong emphasised the importance of rapport management in monitoring the use of humour in the workplace. The exact response strategies that a business employs will depend on the conditions and workers. However, HR managers should aim to promote symmetry and equity in interactions.

Study reveals relationships are key to positive reactions

The relationship between a leader and their subordinates was the driving factor to whether humour raised job satisfaction.

The reception of humour will depending on who exactly is delivering the joke. A study conducted by the University of Missouri found that the relationship between a leader and their subordinates was the driving factor to whether humour raised job satisfaction. Contrary to popular belief, the tone of the joke played a less important role in this regard.  

In order to see better staff engagement, Christopher Robert, associate professor in the Department of Management, explained that a leader needs to establish strengths in other areas before attempting to introduce a more light-hearted approach.

"Instead of using humour to build relationships, leaders should work to build strong relationships through other means such as through clear communication, fair treatment, and providing clear and useful feedback," he said.

For more effective leadership, HR consulting can help build these qualities in your managers. Once these building blocks are in place, humour will be well received amongst your workers.