By Barb Ward

We use humor every day to help us diffuse tense situations, deflect embarrassment, manage adversity, lighten the mood, and as a mental release to get us through hard times. Sometimes people think there is no place for humor in the workplace, but research says otherwise. In fact, laughter can indeed be the best medicine – perhaps especially in the workplace. It is a powerful and multifaceted tool for promoting physical and mental well-being, fostering social connections, and enhancing overall quality of life. Incorporating humor and laughter into daily life can be a simple yet effective strategy for improving health and happiness.

Benefits of Laughter:

Let’s face it, the feeling a deep belly laugh gives us is hard to mimic with any other emotion. However, according to a Gallup survey, by age 23, the rate of laughter per day decreases dramatically. The average 4-year-old laughs up to 300 times a day, however, the average 40-year-old only laughs about three times per day. This is a sad reality given the many benefits laughter provides:

  • Reduces Stress: Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals. These hormones promote an overall sense of well-being.
  • Boosts the Immune System: Laughter may improve the immune system by increasing the production of immune cells and antibodies.
  • Improves Cardiovascular Health: Laughter can improve blood flow and increase vascular function, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease.
  • Enhances Mood: Laughter can elevate mood and decrease feelings of anxiety and depression. 
  • Improves Cognitive Function: Laughter may enhance cognitive functions, including creativity and problem-solving skills.
  • Improves Social Relationships: Laughter fosters social connection. It can strengthen relationships, build rapport, and create a sense of community.
  • Aids Conflict Resolution: Shared laughter can diffuse tension and conflict, promoting better communication and understanding among people.
  • Increases Likability: People who laugh often are generally perceived as more approachable, friendly, and likable.
  • Relieves Muscle Tension: Laughter involves the contraction and relaxation of various muscles, leading to physical tension release and relaxation.
  • Reduces Pain: Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which can act as natural painkillers. It may help reduce the perception of pain and improve pain tolerance.
  • Increases Lung Capacity: Laughter involves deep breathing, which can enhance respiratory function by increasing lung capacity and oxygen intake.
  • Enhances Optimism: Regular laughter contributes to an improved overall quality of life by promoting a positive outlook and helping individuals cope with life’s challenges.

Wow, laughter carries so much power! So why wouldn’t you want these same benefits in your workplace? A study published in The Journal of Managerial Psychology shows that in addition to the benefits mentioned above, humor in the workplace also fosters:  

  • Faster interpersonal bonding 
  • A feeling of belonging at work
  • Better perceived leader performance
  • Stronger workplace relationships
  • A boost in mental health
  • Closer relationships
  • Reduced inhibitions
  • More amicable conflict resolution

The bottom line? Building a culture that includes humor can increase your organization’s engagement, innovation, productivity, and profitability.

Types of Humor

When used in the right context and with the right intentions – to revive and lighten versus to make fun of or embarrass – humor can be an invaluable psychological tool that builds connection and relationships, increases engagement and creativity, and helps people see the bright side of situations and cope more effectively. Additionally, it humanizes us in the eyes of our peers and leaders and when used correctly, makes us more approachable and likable.

According to the Academy of Management, there are four categories of humor:

  • Affiliative humor: funny, light-hearted, often anecdotal personal stories and jokes that enhance social interaction. 
  • Self-enhancing humor: people who focus on the positive and always look for a bit of joy in a stressful or distressing situation tend to rely on self-enhancing humor. 
  • Aggressive humor: this type of humor relies on jokes or humiliation to manipulate others, it often makes one person feel better at another’s expense. 
  • Self-deprecating humor: people who poke fun at themselves are using this humor style. Keeping it light-hearted helps build rapport, however, if overdone, you risk undermining your credibility and professionalism. 

Mindful Workplace Humor

The hardest part about humor is that it is subjective; not everyone finds the same things funny. So, when you consider using humor in the workplace it’s important to be mindful of context, audience, and cultural sensitivities. 

Know Your Audience:

  • Understand the cultural and professional norms of your workplace.
  • Be aware of your colleagues’ preferences and sensitivities.

Read the Room:

  • Pay attention to the reactions of your colleagues. If a joke doesn’t land well, gracefully move on.
  • Adjust your humor based on the formality of the setting.

Avoid Sensitive Topics:

  • Avoid humor that is offensive, discriminatory, or potentially divisive.
  • Avoid jokes related to sensitive topics such as race, gender, religion, and personal appearance.

Use Inclusive Humor:

  • Choose humor that can be appreciated by a diverse audience.
  • Be mindful of inside jokes that may exclude certain individuals or groups.

Consider Timing:

  • Some situations may not be appropriate for jokes.
  • Be especially cautious during formal meetings, presentations, or serious discussions.

Positive and Uplifting:

  • Focus on humor that is positive, uplifting, and contributes to a friendly and collaborative atmosphere.
  • Positive humor can enhance team morale and create a more enjoyable work environment.

Use Puns and Wordplay:

  • Puns and wordplay can be a safe and lighthearted form of humor.
  • Keep it light and ensure that your jokes are in good taste.

Be Mindful of Hierarchies:

  • Be cautious when joking with superiors or subordinates. Humor should not be at the expense of anyone’s position or authority.
  • Foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable and respected.

Encourage Team Bonding:

  • Use humor to build camaraderie and strengthen team relationships.
  • Team-building activities that incorporate humor can be effective in fostering a positive workplace culture.

Most importantly, remember that the goal is to create a positive and inclusive atmosphere. Humor can be a powerful tool for building rapport and reducing stress, but it should always be used with sensitivity and awareness of the professional context. If in doubt, err on the side of caution and choose humor that uplifts rather than potentially alienates.

Building humor into your culture may feel daunting to you. If so, let’s talk, we are organizational effectiveness consultants who can provide tools and resources to help you solve these and other difficult organizational and leadership challenges. We offer a diverse range of professional coaching services, leadership development training, strategy sessions, and customizable programs to meet your needs. Contact us for a no-obligation, free consultation by clicking this link: Innovative Connections or calling us at 970-279-3330.

Our mission is to give voice and action to an emerging future. As a partner in your success, we would love to help you find your voice, see your vision, and imagine what the right action could be for you, your team, and your organization.