In General

A workplace filled with laughter is generally assumed to be a good thing.Several studies have found that good humor doesn’t just make people feel better, or make the work day seem to go faster; it actually delivers bottom line benefits. Employees who laugh together have been shown to be more creative,more collaborative and as a result more productive and profitable Kai Chi (Sam) Yam in ‘When Joking with Your Employees Leads to Bad Behaviour’ in the Harvard Business Review, March 17, 2017.

Inappropriate humor, however, creates more strife than smiles. It’s not surprising that many consider avoiding humor at work for fear of hurting egos (especially the boss’) and messing up relationships. Therefore, the question that often pops up during my humor workshops for corporates is, Should we or shouldn’t we?

I have attempted to answer the question through this post on the good, the bad and the ugly side of workplace humor. Let’s begin with the good.

“More than any other element,
fun has been the secret
to Virgin’s success.”


Richard Branson in bridal attire at the launch of Virgin Brides, an idea brought to him by Virgin Atlantic cabin crew Ailsa Petchey. Image source Ailsa Petchey Virgin Brides

When Virgin Atlantic cabin crew Ailsa Petchey wanted to start a bridal shop, Richard Branson launched it by appearing in a bridal gown. The venture did well and folded up after some years for various reasons. Even then, Branson quipped that just maybe the customers didn’t didn’t take kindly to him sporting a bridal gown.

Humor connects and reduces stress

A project team was getting ready for a video conference with an overseas client and they were indulging in small talk. A husband-wife pair working on the same project trooped in. As they settled down,their manager asked,”What did you guys have for breakfast?”

“Oh,the usual argument!” was their cryptic reply and the room reverberated with peals of laughter setting a convivial mood for the hectic day ahead.

Humor helps build rapport,reduces distance caused by status and builds a friendly image for a leader. A leader who doesn’t take himself seriously but is very serious about work.

A Senior VP of an MNC was known to make lengthy presentations on cyber security and he was aware of the tedium it created. One day he decided to start with, “I wouldn’t mind you glancing at your watches to check the time during my presentation but I’ll certainly be upset if you vigorously shake your watches to see if they’re working!” There was laughter all around and the speaker continued to punctuate his talk with several anecdotes to retain his listener’s interest.

Humor improves likability

In a large automotive organisation, the GM was reviewing a budget estimate and was annoyed with the numbers before him. He yelled at the finance manager, “Shrink the budget!”. She dutifully reworked the estimate and again he hollered, “Shrink it”. When he repeated him the third time, she took the papers to a photocopying machine, shrank it to the smallest size and said “Will this do?”. Within seconds, the GM’s sombre mood switched to a loud guffaw with the remark, “Approved! Get lost!”

Here, the important point is the GM had excellent relations with his team. This remark would have backfired if the boss been offended by the remark. Teams which often laugh together not only stay together but achieve much more together.

Topical Humor !

Yesterday I’d sent a note to a business associate offering to settle payments on a weekly payment for their services.

Here’s the reply I received, “No worries regarding payment.
You could do it all at one go, at the end of the month.
No one is ‘literally’ going anywhere, right?”

For posterity’s sake,this exchange took place during the COVID 19 Lockdowm period! 😎😜🤪

I was pleasantly surprised to find a credible study on the ‘good’ part of workplace Humour. Authors Gostick and Christopher while working for Great Places to Work extensively spoke to thousands of executives and authored the book, The Levity Effect.

Based on ten years of interviews,case studies and exercises, they tell you how humor in the workplace helps create an air of camaraderie, a better communication climate and encourage creativity. A MUST READ for those who are still sceptical about humor at work.

Bad Humor

Cracking jokes in the vernacular when a member of your team doesn’t understand the language. S/He may be the only one who may not comprehend your language but it is highly insensitive to disregard their feelings.

Openly ridiculing someone for linguistic skills- grammar,pronunciation and sentence structure especially non-native English speakers.

Body shaming. Making fun of disabilities like stammering.

Ugly Humor:

Racial slurs. Gender demeaning jokes,that too in a condescending manner. Trolls both online and offline just because you don’t approve of their political/ religious views.

Imagination is the highest kite one can fly. Use yours and have some good, clean fun at work. Turn your office atmosphere healthier, friendlier and more productive for yourself and ALL others.

And then, when you do, don’t shy away from sending me your ‘Humour@Work’ anecdotes.

“Do not take life too seriously.
You will never get out of it alive – Elbert Hubbard

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