Light humor in the workplace is a good thing, says MU business professor

November 01, 2007

It is commonly believed that kidding around at work isn¡¯t a good thing. Well, it is, says a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher, who has examined how workplace humor affects the working environment.

Chris Robert, assistant professor of management in MU¡¯s Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business, said that humor ¨C particularly joking around about things associated with the job ¨C actually has a positive impact in the workplace. Occasional humor among colleagues, he said, enhances creativity, department cohesiveness and overall performance. The conclusion was made by examining theories on humor and integrating literature from a wide variety of disciplines that touch on the subject. Several hundred sources were analyzed by Robert and collaborator Wan Yan, a business doctoral student, who have attempted to bring together literature from numerous disciplines to make the case that humor is serious business.

¡°Humor has a significant impact in organizations,¡± said Robert, who also teaches psychology in MU¡¯s College of Arts and Science. ¡°Humor isn¡¯t incompatible with goals of the workplace. It¡¯s not incompatible with the organization¡¯s desire to be competitive. In fact, we argue that humor is pretty important. It¡¯s not just clowning around and having fun; it has meaningful impact on cohesiveness in the workplace and communication quality among workers. 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.¡±

In their theoretical paper, Robert and Yan focus on three primary areas: Robert stressed the international aspect is an important part of the research and said the paper addresses some of the key cultural differences between the United States and Asian economic powerhouses such as China and India.

¡°Humor is difficult in cross cultural situations,¡± he said. ¡°It¡¯s hard to know what¡¯s going to be funny or when to use humor. Some people have suggested that you just avoid it all together; don¡¯t be funny, don¡¯t try to make jokes. We basically reject that and offer some ground rules for understanding when and what kind of humor might be appropriate.¡±

¡°The Case for Developing New Research on Humor and Culture in Organizations: Toward a Higher Grade of Manure,¡± was published as a chapter in Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management.

University of Missouri-Columbia

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