What's So Funny? A Breakdown of Humor in the Workplace

Humor can help relax inflexible situations, reduce rising tensions, and even improve productivity. 

Humor can also be dangerous, though, when used inappropriately.

In the workplace, funny is generally good; but inappropriateness is not.

Properly used, humor serves many good purposes, including but not limited to:

  • Relationship-building – People tend to like people who appear affable and clever, and want to be associated with them.
  • Stress managing – Laughter relieves stress…like chocolate, just without calories.
  • Innovation maximizing – Relaxed environments assist in innovative thinking (at least Zappos seems to think so).
  • Tension defusing – I know a lot of standup comedians. Many of us learned to be funny as a way to defuse tense situations.
  • Communication improving – Teaching, counseling, and training are all easier when communication is “softened” with humor.
  • Productivity enhancing –We get more work done when we’re not stressed, our creativity is high, and we’re working with people we like.
  • Morale boosting – Humor makes people happier.

Here are some basic guidelines employees should keep in mind when using humor in the workplace:

  1. Joke about yourself!
    Not others. Use self-deprecating humor. But make sure not to be too hard on yourself.  Then it is no longer funny. It becomes sad…and scary.
  2. Know your audience!
    If you are joking about sleeves to people without arms, you might sound stupid, not funny.
    If you are kidding about prosthetics to people with prosthetics, but you have no prosthetics yourself, you may sound insensitive…to put it nicely.
  3. At work, there are no hecklers!
    Unless you work in a comedy club, don’t think you can retaliate with anger disguised in humor. The joke you make at work in anger or in retaliation WILL BE held against you.
  4. Stick to what you know!
    Joking about subjects you are not familiar with makes the joker look like the math teacher trying to teach art. Students just don’t want to hear that from you.
  5. Don’t be corny!
    If your joke begins, “Did you hear the one about…” do not tell that joke.
  6. If you are not sure whether to joke about it, DON’T!
    Yes, jokes about race, color, religion, gender, sex, national origin, disability, pregnancy, age, veteran status, genetic information, citizenship, violence (animal or human), abuse (animal or human), neglect (animal or human), diet, appetite, exercise, genetic information (ex., height, weight, eye color, hair texture, hand size, etc.), hygiene, political views, economic status, and anything that can be considered a sensitive topic are topics thatare all off limits.

If the above constraints seem too restrictive or your first instinct is to complain that people are too sensitive nowadays, you are probably not ready to finesse the funny at work and should probably save the funny for family and friends outside the workplace. People are indeed sensitive and there’s no need to get in trouble at work.

Now. Smiles, everyone! Smiles!



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