Humor is a funny thing. In interpersonal relationships with family and friends, having a sense of humor is highly valued and considered attractive. However, we hardly place the importance of telling jokes or using sarcasm when in professional circles because, well, it’s considered unprofessional. Leaders are expected to maintain a certain demeanor of maturity and seriousness that often blocks humor in the workplace. 

It’s interesting to consider how a quality so admired in personal settings falls short in value when applied to the professional world. If we enjoy being around funny people and laughing often in casual environments, imagine how instilling more humor in our workplaces could impact team dynamics and morale. 

What’s the Impact of Humor?

When someone uses successful humor, the result is people laughing together, and when people are laughing together, they aren’t taking themselves too seriously. They are enjoying the moment and connecting with each other. Appropriate humor has a similar effect no matter what setting you put it in. 

Let’s place humor in the workplace. If humor gives people lighthearted common ground to engage with each other, then deep and quality relationships can form amongst team members. If humor serves as a short escape from reality and an opportunity to live in the moment, then workers are able to alleviate stress and boredom

Leaders especially can utilize humor to reap positive benefits in team dynamics. According to Harvard Business Review, “It [humor] also influences critical behaviors and attitudes that matter to leadership effectiveness, including employee job performance, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, citizenship behaviors, creativity, psychological safety in groups, and desire to interact again in the future.” When leaders use humor, they make themselves more approachable to their team members. 

Individual workers and leaders are not the only beneficiaries of humor in the workplace, but also organizations can profit from the increased productivity, morale, and trust, according to positivity and humor strategist Paul Oscinop in a TED Talk

Why Is Humor Taboo?

If humor has such impressive results on company culture and productivity, then why is it often avoided in professional settings? 

“Humor, by its nature, tends to have an edge to it, so people typically tone it down at work,” says Laura Vanderkam, author and expert in productivity and work/life balance. 

Just like coffee, humor is something that everyone takes differently. With such a subjective nature to it, humor is not one size fits all, which can make joke-telling a risky business. No one wants to make a joke that receives a silent response. 

Humor is linked to status and power. Displaying appropriate humor can help one climb the ranks of organizations and can gain leadership positions, says HBR. People who successfully tell jokes are perceived as more confident and competent, resulting in higher status. However, inappropriate or failed humor can backfire, making the joke teller appear unintelligent and incompetent. 

Using humor at work is a slippery slope, but certainly one worth learning the intricacies of. Rather than letting the fear of telling a bad joke hold you back from ever engaging in humor with colleagues, instead invest time in learning the best and most appropriate ways to make others laugh.

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The positive impacts of humor on individuals, teams, and organizations is powerful and motivational. Applying humor certainly has profitable payoffs that make learning the do’s and don’ts of workplace jokes worthy of attention. Keep an eye on Knowted’s blog for next week’s article, which will provide a detailed approach on how and when to use humor at work.

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