How using humour can help you work better

7 Aug 2017


office humour

In every office, there’s always someone who thinks they’re a bit of a joker… but without actually being funny. Their toe-curling attempts to try and bring laughter into the workplace are one of the reasons why the sitcom The Office was so popular on both sides of the Atlantic, with the David Brent character placed firmly as the butt of the humour.

Whilst these self-styled office jokers should definitely not be encouraged, there are compelling reasons why humour and laughter in the workplace definitely should.

There have been many academic studies highlighting the positive effects on productivity that laughter can have. Workplace laughter can increase morale, resilience, and personal efficacy; it increases general psychology well-being, helps strengthen the immune system, reduces anxiety, decreases blood pressure, and significantly decreases the body’s production of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone.

review of the literature by researchers at the University of Warwick concluded that encouraging humour in the workplace has “a potentially powerful economic effect. Experiments involving close to 800 subjects found that a rise in happiness leads to a marked increase in productivity in a paid piece-rate task”.

Making people laugh increases your status

The latest study which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology looked at humour and status. Researchers found that good use of humour plays a “fundamental role in shaping interpersonal perceptions and hierarchies within groups”. The use of appropriate humour actually helps to increase a person’s status because people are more likely to perceive them as confident and competent. On the other hand, whilst the use of inappropriate humour was also perceived as a sign of confidence, it was also seen as a sign of low competence and therefore decreased a person’s status.

In an interview with the BBC following the publication of the study, its author Professor Maurice Schweitzer theorised that being able to crack a good joke uses both intellect and empathy, and it’s this combination that causes people to see the person making the joke as someone with a greater level of competency across the board.

You may think a good joke never gets old…

We all know that a person’s sense of humour is very subjective, and what one person finds hilarious, another will find deeply unfunny, and someone else may even be offended by it.

What jokers also need to bear in mind is that our sense of humour changes as we get older. Ever watched a film you remember laughing till you cried at a few years ago, yet it barely raised a titter this time round?

The authors of a report into how humour changes as we get older found distinct differences between what young adults, the middle aged, and the over-64s found funny. Young adults tend to enjoy a more aggressive style of humour – they’re more likely to laugh when it’s at the expense of others. Whereas older people prefer ‘affiliate humour’, which brings people together to share in a joke because of a funny or awkward situation.

The authors theorised that as we get older, life deals us with physical and emotional blows and affiliate humour helps us to deal with our losses.

So if you want to increase productivity, improve your resilience and be seen as a competent and confident business person, don’t be afraid to crack a joke or two at work… as long as it’s the right kind of joke of course.

To give you some inspiration, search through the millions of ‘world’s greatest jokes’ published online (though the majority of them could be reported to Trading Standards for false advertising). We’ve found a short selection of jokes by British comedians which will hopefully raise a chuckle, so click here if you fancy trying to make your co-workers laugh.

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