Humor in the workplace

Why Humor Belongs in the Workplace


It isn’t always easy finding humor in the workplace. In the book, The Levity Effect: Why it Pays to Lighten Up, authors Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher use ten years of extensive research to reveal the remarkable power of humor and fun in business and the impact levity has on building a healthy culture and ultimately the business bottom-line.

Andrew Carnegie once said, “There is little success where there is little laughter.” Certainly, you don’t want to turn your business into a comedy club, and you definitely want to stay away from offensive, political or discriminatory humor, jokes or comments. However, it does pay to “lighten up.”

So, how do you laugh more? 

There are three humor elements that come into play in the workplace:

1. Latitude

  • Allow/embrace/encourage/permit – empower employees to have fun while getting the work done.
  • Tolerate chatter/storytelling/catching up – encourage a quick 5 to 10-minute catch-up between peers on Monday mornings and/or after vacations or big events.
  • Encourage and recognize creativity, ownership, “out of the box” thinking.
  • Game room/fun space/Foosball, etc. – find ways to infuse fun into the workplace.
  • Viral videos or other “gotta see this” – find and share funny cartoons, stories, videos. We have a couple of new grandparents in our office, and there isn’t anything better than a new baby laughing!

2. Attitude

  • Smile/laugh (a lot) – it is hard to not smile or laugh when others are; both can be contagious!
  • Relax for sales calls, meetings, conference calls, and presentations – get to know those you are working with or presenting to, to help bring down the stress level.
  • Collaborate and share great ideas.
  • Poke fun at yourself – share mistakes and a laugh together about them, then work together to find a solution.
  • Perspective – break down narrowly focused perspectives, seek ideas from others.
  • Discover your sense of humor and apply it (Relax! You don’t have to be funny to have a sense of humor!).

3. Gratitude

  • Know what matters most for employees:
    • Appreciation for work done – specific feedback about a job well done
    • Feeling “in” on things – inclusion, as for input
    • Sympathetic to personal issues
    • Job security – communicate company direction often
    • Good wages and impactful recognition
    • Interesting work – seek input from employees about job design
    • Growth opportunity – provide the opportunity for development and cross-training, ask what they are interested in and would like to learn
    • Personal loyalty to workers
    • Good working conditions
    • Tactful disciplining – training your managers, supervisors, and leaders in positive employee improvement techniques

Reasons to Lighten Up

Below you will find some of the more important reasons a company might want to “lighten up”:

  • A sense of humor is linked to higher pay and a faster climb up the corporate ladder.
  • More memorable communication – A little humor goes a long way toward making you and your messages more memorable.
  • Bigger, better ideas – Research shows that you can boost scores on standardized tests of creativity by exposing people to a playful and relaxed atmosphere.
  • A more successful you – Leaders who use more levity experience higher employee productivity, engagement and retention.
  • Improves the culture of the company. A company with a positive culture statistically has drastically higher revenue growth and stock appreciation than a company with a negative culture.


A company culture that is colored by a bit of levity eases tense times and helps solve problems. It’s good for both the employer and the employee. Phillis Diller may have said it best: “A smile is a curve that can set everything straight.”

Author: Holly Young, HR Coach

Sources“The Levity Effect: Why it Pays to Lighten Up” by Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher

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