Laughing Matters

How much have you laughed in the past day? Week?

A recent study published in the Academy of Management reveals that humor generates positive effects for organizations.[1] In their paper, Leader Humor as an Interpersonal Resource: Integrating Three Theoretical Perspectives, Cooper, Kong and Crossley (2018) found that leaders who use humor in the workplace create positive emotions within their employees and teams. These positive emotions lead employees and teams to be more likely to display organizational citizenship behaviors or behaviors like: helping one another, responding more quickly and positively to change, working for the benefit of the team and creating an optimistic atmosphere. Leaders who use humor create environments where their employees feel supported and, in turn, work to support others.

So how can you, as a leader, add humor to the workplace?

I don’t find that I’m a particularly funny person; I’m not the class clown or comedian archetype most associate with humor. I have to work to find other ways to infuse a little fun and comedy in my leadership and workplace (I usually use self-deprecating humor to lighten the mood in meetings or joke with colleagues in the hallway as we’re going about our day). A few weeks ago, we hosted a leadership activity that was based in improv. Participants linked arms and became a ‘five-headed monster’ charged with writing a new bestselling novel on leadership that was to be composed by each participant taking turns speaking one word at a time. (If you’re familiar with the “Three-headed Broadway Star” sketches from Whose Line is it Anyway?, imagine that premise applied to leadership). After a few minutes in this activity, participants were listening to one another, laughing, and building trust with their team. Although the stories themselves were quite silly, the cultural outcome was impressive. Immediately after the activity, the energy in the room changed. Participants were engaging in casual conversation, joking and offering to help one another in informal capacities.

Whether or not you use an activity like this with your teams, you have the power to change organizations by infusing humor in the workplace. To inspire positive emotions and foster cultures of goodwill and trust, leaders need to take time to laugh with their teams.

How do you use humor in the workplace? Offer your insights in the comment box below!

[1] Cooper, C. D., Kong, D. T., & Crossley, C. D. (2018). Leader Humor as an Interpersonal Resource: Integrating Three Theoretical Perspectives. Academy Of Management Journal, 61(2), 769-796. doi:10.5465/amj.2014.0358


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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.