We’ve all likely experienced a tense situation that was diffused by humor. We’ve all probably also experienced an inept attempt at humor that caused a tense situation. So, what is the proper place for humor in the workplace? Many HR professionals would say workplace humor can be dangerous, because of its potential to offend or fall flat and cause awkwardness. However, a new study published in the journal Human Relations, posits that humor may be the unsung hero in the workplace.

The study, The Wheel Model of humor: Humor events and affect in organizations looked at research from neuroscience, behavioral psychology and the workplace, and identified what the authors call a “Humor Wheel.” They start with the premise that humor and the laughter it produces can be contagious—noting that simply hearing laughter makes us laugh, even if we don’t hear or see the joke. Thus a little chuckle between two people can quickly become a “humor event” that spreads through the entire team or company.

Why is this a good thing? According to the study, because humor can be a trigger that enables employees to “breach straight-faced operations with a crinkled smile” and to “approach opportunities rather than retreat: exploration and playness ensue, allowing us to build positive resources for the future.”

While humor in general may be good for business, is being the humor instigator good for one’s career? A Forbes Magazine post, Are Funny People More Successful in Business?, asserts that it is. The post quotes Steven Sultanoff, Ph.D., former president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (Yes, that’s a real organization.) who notes that when people are fired from a job, the reason is incompetence in only 15% of cases, and that the other 85% is because they can’t get along with others; and that people who are funny are typically perceived as more enjoyable, easy to get along with, and better employees.

Of course not all humor is good humor—particularly if it falls flat. An AOL Jobs post looks at How Not To Use Humor At Work. The post begins with an observation that women typically have a harder time effectively employing humor in the business world than men do, and provides some reasons for why this may be. It also looks at a number of ways that humor use can backfire. The last part of the post provides 5 tips for successfully employing humor at work—regardless of gender.

So, as a small business owner how can you inject the creative, empowering type of humor into your workplace? Read 101 Ways to Create Humor at Work. This extensive list is sure to contain a few nuggets that are a good fit for your team.

And for a quick dose of humor right now, read the latest strip on the Dilbert website. Whether you recognize yourself and laugh with it, or groan at the dysfunction and laugh at it, it’s sure to at least generate a chuckle which just might start a “Humor Wheel” in your office.

Lisa Hephner

Lisa Hephner

My name is Lisa, and I'm the Vice President of Knowledge, responsible for the management of corporate, product, competitor, marketplace, legal, and regulatory knowledge, and creation and dissemination of knowledge tools using these assets to PaySimple prospects, customers, employees, and partners.

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