Humour at Work (Part 2): The Research

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Humour at Work (Part 2): The Research

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We have seen how satire from our favourite comedians, in a newspaper, or topical TV & radio shows such as: ‘That was the week that was’, ‘Spitting Image’, ‘Now Show’ and ‘Weekending’; has a way of making us laugh, because we see an element of truth in the joke.

The same happens in the workplace, where a satirical comment can cut through to the truth of a matter; causing laughter, which in turn relieves the pressure and stress of the very real situation.

Factory vs Office

Humour around the workplace, does not necessarily mean personnel exchanging ‘comedian style’ jokes; with beginning, middle and a punchline. This form of humour, normally left to professional comics, is used more often by employees on factory floors and assembly lines, than in an office setting. This helps to relieve the pressure of the daily routine.

Here the concentration and mechanical boredom of the task placed in front of the employee, gives them less chance to relate to each other; compared to an office. Hence the need for contrived material, in wash/rest rooms or even at the work station. Often the joke, if deemed good by the fellow workers, will make its way around the factory, causing delight as well as staff bonding.

In an office environment, employees tend to have more verbal contact with each other; which makes the comedy more spontaneous and of the moment, surrounding an activity, person or company policy.

Humour to Avoid

We need to be aware within any office environment, where our humour is being directed. Like in any school playground culture, we all play roles and unfortunately there always seems to be one who is picked on or laughed at. This has to be avoided at work. Someone can be the butt of a joke for a moment, but continuous sending up is bullying; especially if that person is a subordinate and feels unable to fight back.

Forms of humour which must be actively discouraged in the workplace are: racist and sexist humour, gang like or a bullying approach to colleagues. This can only have a negative effect for the business, by causing reverse results.

Humour Research

According to Dr. Joel Goodman, a ‘humour consultant’ from the US, “Most of us are ruled by fear when we are at work – fear of looking foolish or unprofessional, fear of messing up. Humour releases fear and tension, relaxes us and enables us to learn and grow”. He believes that humour and creativity are closely linked, stating “It’s no coincidence that the sounds Ha Ha and Aha (as in I’ve got it) are similar. Both humour and creativity give us a new perspective on reality, as well as new energy and new possibilities”.

Dr. John Morreall (University of South Florida) believes humour can improve mental flexibility, among workers. He says “Modern industries such as computer and IT firms are changing the quickest. Many now have ‘laughter rooms’, full of funny gadgets, where employees can go for some ‘laughter time’ before a big meeting or a brain storming session”.

In Morreall’s research he identified three different types of bosses; and their attitude to humour:

  • The ‘Emperor General‘ controls the office and the comedy in it. He rarely sees the funny side, but when he does the jokes are formulaic and not witty or clever. He uses them to put down and humiliate his staff. Therefore he does not allow his underlings to initiate humour, as it is part of his control mechanism.
  • The ‘Matron‘ is a senior female boss, who almost never uses humour in the workplace.
  • The more modern ‘Horizontal Boss‘, male or female, uses comedy to motivate and encourage their staff. This form of manager is seen as a coach and does not use humour to push people around; but allowing people a space in which to express work related problems, in an open environment.

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