Is humor at work a key component in your organizational culture? As a manager, if you are not using humor with the people that you manage, it’s time to rethink that. We offer perspectives from several  humor proponents who advocate for more laughter in our lives and in our workplaces. If you already do try to tap into humor, you might pick up a few pointers or ideas. We’re big proponents of humor at work!

Jacquelyn Smith interviews authors who have written books about humor in the workplace in her article 10 Reasons Why Humor Is A Key To Success At Work. She notes that the degree of humor in any given workplace is related to the culture: a relaxed culture tends to have more humor, while a formal workplace may exhibit less. Humor at work is certainly not without risks: it can be inappropriate, it can backfire, or it can just plain bomb. But even with these risks, she cites several advantages – among them: humor is good for morale; it can be a stress buster; it is humanizing; it’s a way to put people at ease; it can build trust and spark creativity.

She cites author Michael Kerr:

“… dozens of surveys suggest that humor can be at least one of the keys to success. A Robert Half International survey, for instance, found that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement; while 84% feel that people with a good sense of humor do a better job. Another study by Bell Leadership Institute found that the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor.

“At an organizational level, some organizations are tapping into what I’d call ‘the humor advantage,’” Kerr says. “Companies such as Zappos and Southwest Airlines LUV have used humor and a positive fun culture to help brand their business, attract and retain employees and to attract customers.”

Alison Beard also looks at two books on humor in her article Leading with Humor  in the Harvard Business Review. Her focus is on the essence of humor or what makes things funny. Among her observations, she cites recommendations from The Humor Code by Peter McGraw

  • It’s not whether or not you’re funny, it’s what kind of funny you are.
  • Be honest and authentic.
  • If you can’t be “ha-ha” funny, at least be “aha!” funny.
  • Cleverness is sometimes good enough.
  • Good comedy is a conspiracy. Create an in-group.
  • Don’t be afraid to chuckle at yourself. It signals everything is okay.
  • Laughter is disarming. Poke fun at the stuff everyone’s worried about.

Beard also points us to Laughter: Serious Business, a talk by Eric Tsytsylin that was featured on the Stanford website. Tsytsylin says that we are in a laughter drought and it is taking a toll in our productivity. He cites a Stanford study, which showed that there can be physical health benefits: 30 seconds of deep belly laughter is equal to 10 minutes of rowing on our heart rate. He advocates “taking laughter seriously” by finding ways to bring it to the workplace. He offers examples and steps to take to increase laughter.


For another perspective on whether you should you crack jokes in the office, Wharton research says that a sense of humor, when deftly and appropriately used, can enhance workplace status and perception of one’s competence. That’s one of the findings of the research paper, “Risky Business: When Humor Increases and Decreases Status,” by Maurice Schweitzer, Wharton professor of operations, information and decisions; doctoral candidate Brad Bitterly, and Alison Wood Brooks, a Harvard University assistant professor.  Check out the podcast: Using Humor in the Office: When It Works, When It Backfires

Prior HR Web Cafe posts on the benefits of humor and laughter:

Just for the laughs: How laughter helps us cope

The healing properties of laughter


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