Article: How humour plays a fundamental role at the workplace

Life @ Work

How humour plays a fundamental role at the workplace

Implcations of humour at workplace
How humour plays a fundamental role at the workplace

Having a good sense of humor works well because it is a fantastic way to keep negative feelings away, helping maintain a positive mindset


While talking to my newly engaged and very emotional sister on how she picked her life partner, I was informed that ‘sense of humor’ was on top of her checklist of qualities. As I pondered her answer, it occurred to me that ‘being funny’ has its value not just in personal but professional life as well.

In fact, there are several studies and research papers on the positive role that humor can play at the workplace. While humor can be a stress-buster, if used carelessly, it can also backfire. But there are three fundamental dimensions to how humor plays out in the workplace – the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good:
Positive Conviviality: Chris Robert, management professor at University of Missouri, in his report, says that humor, particularly joking around about things associated with the job, has a great impact at the workplace. As an example, he stresses the role that humor plays in team-building, “The ability to appreciate humor, the ability to laugh and make other people laugh actually has physiological effects on the body that cause people to become more bonded,” he says.

Lighten Up: Humor is a great way to deal with the stress at work, says Shubhodeep Chakravarty, an online media journalist with NDTV Sports. He insists, “Humor makes the workplace more humane, as opposed to a place with machines staring at machines.” Even though light humor de-stresses a person (though only momentarily), it helps you keep a cool head. Kanika Sharma, a chirpy HR professional who works with Yum Brands, suggests, “Having a good sense of humor works well because it is a fantastic way to keep negative feelings away, helping maintain a positive mindset!”

The Bad:
Bad Timing: However, humor at the workplace can be risky too. Once, for instance, seeing everyone in my office getting stressed over tight deadlines, I decided to entertain them. So I came up with a funny one-liner as the new headline for an article that was to go to print in the next five minutes. My editors, when they saw it, were speechless. Considering I was a newbie, just a week-old in the team, they were not amused. Comic relief is good, but bear in mind that the timing is crucial.

Sarcasm: Anirudh Shivanand, a software developer from Bangalore, provides another dimension: Sarcasm. “Poking fun at people who don't get sarcasm is definitely not a good idea. It will surely get you into trouble!” he says. The quality of a joke is also very crucial, though it might not appear to be so at the outset – after all, ‘it’s just a joke’. Sarcasm can often be misunderstood as belittling someone, and hence the risk of it not being received very well is pretty high.

The Ugly:
Ethical Trouble: In extreme cases, the entire point of humor is lost if an incident turns into an ugly ethical issue. For instance, when an employee tells racist jokes and refers to a particular co-worker or group of co-workers by using racial slurs – that could be construed as harassment. This calls for action through complaints to the Ethics team, and the employer is required to make amends. The most common reasons behind the complaints received in this context are, sexual innuendo, bullying and racial discrimination.

Given that humor has its fair share of the good, the bad and the ugly, an individual must understand the importance of light moments and humorous quips. He should make sure that he neither offends people nor disrupts timelines. Having a sense of humor not only helps in adapting to the company’s culture, it fosters cohesiveness at the workplace. 

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Topics: Life @ Work

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