The qualities people typically admire in a partner or a friend aren’t necessarily the same traits that are most respected in the workplace– like humor. Having a best friend who makes you laugh is considered normal and valuable, but yet the same isn’t typically said of a colleague.

While showcasing a sense of humor may not be a top priority in the office, research has proven that we shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously– even at work. 

Humor can be used as a tool in the workplace to help one rise in status and be perceived as more confident and competent. Using humor helps create interpersonal connections, spark creativity, and enhance company morale. 

Engaging in humor can be risky. While humor offers many positive outcomes, it can also backfire if not delivered properly. Humor that is unsuccessful can hurt someone’s status and make them be perceived as less intelligent. 

Incorporating humor into work life is important for employee mental health. The countless benefits that humor offers are hard to ignore, but learning to engage the right way is important. Below is a list of humor do’s and don’ts to help guide successful workplace jokes and comedy. 

Inside Jokes

Having a joke that was previously shared by an exclusive group of people can be powerful. While having insider knowledge and being privy to the joke can make you feel like an insider, being out of the loop can make you feel like an outsider. 

Do: Sharing successful humor and reliving it together can bond people and create a cohesion amongst team members. Everyone enjoys feeling included and being a part of an insider rhetoric. Engaging in inside jokes can boost camaraderie, leading to a more effective team. 

Don’t: Have you ever felt like an outsider when others collectively laugh at an inside joke that you aren’t a part of? Rehashing inside jokes leads to isolation when not everyone is involved in the original joke. According to Harvard Business Review, the outsiders are often left thinking that the inside joke-tellers believe they are superior. 

Pro tip: Humor has a better success rate when everyone understands the joke. 

Deprecating Jokes

Jokes that expose weaknesses can be funny, but first consider some boundaries and scenarios that could make the humor flop. 

Do: Self-deprecating jokes can be used to help break down barriers and show vulnerability. If you can make fun of yourself and not take yourself so seriously, people around you will find you more approachable and relatable, which is especially important for leaders.

Don’t: Humor that ridicules other workers isn’t funny. While you may just be teasing fun, jokes that make fun of people can be hurtful to the individual and shrink morale. According to an article by Fast Company, when someone feels made fun of, they are less likely to take risks, share new ideas, or feel comfortable being themselves.

Pro-tip: Self-deprecating is the only deprecating humor to engage in, but it is not bulletproof. Be careful not to tell a self-deprecating joke that reveals failure in (a?) core competency. 

Appropriate Jokes

While humor is subjective and one person’s version of appropriate may differ from the next, maintaining a level of professionalism and social awareness is necessary. 

Do: Keep jokes friendly and PG at the workplace. Make an effort to use humor to create connection, relieve stress and tension, and boost others’ spirits. 

Don’t: When in doubt, don’t tell the joke. Your workplace is not the setting to test how far your humor can go. If there’s even a small part of you that hesitates to make a wisecrack or sarcastic comment, bite your tongue. Inappropriate jokes are hard to recover from. 

Pro-tip: The use of humor, in any form, indicates confidence. The perception of competence, however, is earned by engaging in appropriate humor. Use humor, but use it with caution. Confidence and competence both matter.  

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You don’t need to be a comedian to tell a joke or learn about the best ways to navigate humor in the workplace. Being mindful of your setting and keeping jokes light and positive is a great first step in mixing humor with your working dialogue. 

For more information on the effect of humor on company culture, check out Knowted’s products or reach out directly at info@knowted.co to get in touch.

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