Why Humour in the Workplace is Important

Last modified 12 July 2024
Communication, Organisations & Culture
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Why Humour in the Workplace is Important

Joking around in the workplace has traditionally often been frowned upon. But as more and more employers, managers and HR departments are learning, the benefits of humour in the workplace are many. This is particularly true when it comes to building engaged teams and culture.

Read on to learn some of the reasons why humour is important in the workplace and some tips on how to use humour constructively at work while avoiding some common pitfalls.

4 Benefits of using humour at work

Telling jokes comes naturally to some people, while for others using humour in the workplace may be a more daunting prospect. Regardless of which camp you fall in, there are several compelling reasons why judicious use of humour can help your workplace become happier and more productive. Here are four benefits of humour at work.

1. Humour helps morale

Employee morale is a big topic for leaders, but at the end of the day how happy employees are when they’re at work plays a big part. As you’d expect, a workplace that feels fun and friendly to be in is one that will encourage happy employees. Morale is directly linked with motivation, so it’s in every manager’s interests to encourage high morale. If a little levity smooths that path, all the better!

Encouraging humour and laughter is an obvious way to increase positive feelings at work. In addition, humour in the workplace can also reduce stress by insulating against stressful factors and building greater resilience in teams.

2. Humour helps your health

It’s often said that ‘laughter is the best medicine’, and it is certainly true that laughing has been linked with both short and long term health benefits.

Laughter stimulates the heart and lungs, increases blood flow around the body and increases feel-good endorphins released from the brain. It can also increase your ability to cope with difficult situations or break the ice to prevent a potential conflict.

3. Humour breaks down barriers

It’s perhaps not surprising that most of us feel more comfortable sharing a joke with a co-worker than our boss; the risk of a superior taking your humour the wrong way is greater than someone with no power over you. But a shared joke actually establishes common ground and lessens the perception of difference between people.  Research shows that where someone is telling a compelling story, the storyteller and their listeners are mirroring one another’s brain patterns and fostering connections that strengthen their bond.

4. Humour helps your career

The research on this is compelling: in a Robert Half International Survey, a staggering 91% of executives who responded felt that a sense of humour was important for career advancement, and 84% agreed that someone with a good sense of humour does a better job. Humour makes you appear calm and in control of a situation, and able to look at it with perspective, imbuing you with a greater air of authority. Whether you’re in a leadership position or  looking to make the transition from manager to leader, a well timed piece of humour can only help your chances.

Other benefits of humour at work include:

  • Increasing engagement in meetings
  • Information that is communicated with humour can be more memorable
  • Helping to break the ice in formal settings
  • Encouraging creative thinking and problem solving
  • Helping to diffuse conflict

How to use humour in the workplace

There are some clear dos and don’ts when it comes to using humour in the workplace. With close friends humour can often be used to push the envelope, break down or explore taboos; this is usually not the best approach with humour in the workplace. In a professional setting, people with different backgrounds, values, cultures and perspectives come together for work. The people you work with will not just have different ideas about what is funny, but what is appropriate and what is offensive as well. It’s important to keep this in mind when planning to use humour at work.

Here are some tips on how to use humour in the workplace.

Prioritise your coworkers’ feelings

We tell jokes to affect how other people feel – by making them laugh. It’s paramount to be conscious of the feelings of your coworkers when using humour. Jokes that mock someone’s age, ethnicity, religion or appearance are always off limits – remember the comedian’s adage: punch up and not down.

It should go without saying, but jokes in the workplace shouldn’t be made at any one’s expense. Self-deprecating humour can of course be a useful tool, especially for leaders, but avoid making anyone else the butt of a joke.

Pick your moments

Humour is a great way to relieve tension at work, particularly when you want to break the ice with a new group, diffuse conflict, push through a stressful or awkward moment or stimulate creativity and discussion.

Once you start looking for them you’ll find many moments like these that can be improved or smoothed over with some well-placed humour.

Know when to hold back

On the other hand there are some moments that just aren’t ideal for humour. Some difficult conversations will become even more difficult if you approach them with anything other than complete seriousness. Formal reports and documents will also benefit from a more sober tone.

Never forward emails or videos containing ‘funny’ imagery – it’s too risky that a recipient will be offended or that the email will be forwarded on to someone else by mistake.

As a general rule of thumb, if you feel like humour might not improve a situation or communication, play it safe and leave it out.

Humour is a tool – not the point

Using humour can be a great way to improve your communication in the workplace, but it’s important to be careful to not let it get in the way of what you really need to communicate. If your employees only remember the punchline you finished with at the end of a briefing meeting, rather than what they need to do (and why), how successful was your communication really?

As well, it can be useful to keep in mind that most professionals are already trying to deal with communication overload. Workplace humour that doesn’t serve a purpose might only be adding to that. Keep jokes short; a throw-away one-liner is always going to be better received than a long ‘shaggy dog tale’.

How do you use humour in your workplace?

Does your workplace encourage humour? If so, how? Comment to share your experiences with humour in the workplace.

This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Robert Half, Forbes, The Atlantic, Mike Kerr, Humor That Works, Entrepreneur, Mayo Clinic.

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*The Australian Institute of Business (AIB) is Australia’s largest provider of MBAs. Source Ready, B. (2023) Domestic Enrolments Surged During COVID After International Students Locked Out, MBA News. Available at: MBA News.

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