Humor in the Workplace Essay (Critical Writing)
Modern scholars as well as business administrators attempt to identify those factors which impact people’s attitude toward their jobs, their willingness to remain with the company, and contribute to its performance.
Special attention is paid to humor and fun at the workplace since they are associated with such positive outcomes as decreased absenteeism and burnout, and improved relations among employees (Plester, 2009, p 584).
Additionally, it is believed that humor and fun can enhance group cohesiveness and team work (Baptise, 2009, p 601). Overall, their effects are considered to be beneficial.
This paper aims to discuss the ways in which fun and humor can impact managing people at work. Yet, it is necessary for us to explain how humor and fun are constructed in contemporary organizations.
In other words, one has to understand in what kind of companies people are more likely to have fun or resort to humor.
The findings of this paper can be important from theoretical and practical perspectives: on the one hand, they can better explain those forces which govern the relations among colleagues; while on the other hand, they can be used by managers, who need to improve the climate in the workplace and ultimately raise productivity of employees.
Humor and fun in their workplace and their manifestations
Humor and fun are those notions which avoid definitions or interpretations; in part, because there are hundreds if not thousands definitions of humor.
Managers and researchers do not overlook the issue because it is vital to mark the boundaries of legitimate or permissible fun in the workplace.
Modern scholars define these notions in terms of what they are not. In other words, they try to single out those aspects of fun, which are not permissible, for instance, Jerald Greenberg focuses on those jokes which are based on racial or sexual stereotypes (2010 p 176).
In short, humor must not be offensive or it will eventually result into hostility.
In their turn, Susanna Stromberg and Jan Karlsson (2009) argue that the management must not tolerate those activities which can potentially distract employees from their direct duties or harm the reputation of an organization.
In addition to that, psychologists and sociologists associate humor and fun with subcultures in the workplace. The thing is that employees can adopt overtly compliant behavior and at the same time mock the managers behind their backs (Stromberg & Karlsson, 2009, p 634).
Understanding of these boundaries is crucial for the management since humor can turn into a very dangerous weapon that produces adverse effects on the company.
At this point we can say that the impacts of fun or humor depend on how employees and managers understand these notions and how they determine whether they are appropriate for a particular situation or not.
Apart from that, one should remember that humor and fun in the workplace are connected with organizational culture, structure, power distance between the co-workers. One of the factors which are commonly identified by scholars is generational difference (Lamm & Meeks 2009). Different generations such as baby boomers1, generation Xers2, or Millennials3 have different attitudes and perceptions of work (Macky, Gardner & Forsyth, 2008).
For example, some people, who were born between 1941 and 1960 may object to fun because it may distract employees from their direct responsibilities, whereas Millennials are more favorable of it (Lamm & Meeks 2009, p 620; Zemke et al, 2000).
Thus, one can say that the age of employees shapes workplace relations, including attitude toward humor and fun. Another very important factor is power distance in the company.
If an organization has a complex hierarchical structure in which there are many formal barriers among co-workers, they are less likely to make or take jokes.
Such scholars as Peter Fleming and Andrew Sturdy (2009) study believe that lack of empowerment, over-supervision suppress individuality and subsequently stifle person’s willingness to express joy or fun.
Certainly, one can hardly deny the fact that humor is present in bureaucratic and hierarchical organizations as well, but it often has such characteristics as sarcasm or even cynicism because it is usually directed against high-ranking officials or even against clients (Kinnie, Hutchinson & Purcell, p 967).
Thus, we can say that the nature of fun and humor in contemporary organizations are dependent on the culture, structure, values, and even demographic characteristic of the employees, especially age.
The influence of humor and fun
The influence of humor and fun manifest itself at different levels.
Such a researchers Nicole Baptiste points out the following beneficial effects of fun the workplace: 1) psychological benefits such as decreased sense of stress and anxiety or enhanced job satisfaction; 2) physical improvements, especially reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and 3) improved relations among employees in terns of cooperation, social support, trust, and reciprocity (Baptiste, 2009, p 603).
These are the most important advantages. It should also be mentioned that a person, who expresses his/her disagreement through joke or witticism, is less likely to come into conflict with his/her colleagues.
This ability to express fun is particularly important in the relations between the managers and frontline personnel.
Apart from that, both humor and fun can improve a great number of organizational activities, especially brainstorming during which employees have to come up with daring and often unrealistic ideas (Baptiste, 2009, p 608).
The managers, who use humor as method of motivation, can better involve the frontline personnel into brainstorming because they will not be afraid of making mistakes.
As it has been said before, the employees, who can freely make jokes, feel more relaxed, and they are less susceptible to work stress. More importantly, they are less likely to vent their spleen on their families.
Therefore, these improvements can be explained by the psychological impacts of having fun.
Apart from that, the surveys conducted by different companies show that the employees, who have an opportunity to have fun at work, display higher levels of job satisfaction (Karl & Pelluchette, 2006).
Consequently, these people are more likely to stay with a company or an organization that will not have to incur extra expenses on recruitment and training of new hires.
One should not assume that fun in the workplace is related only to psychological wellbeing of the staff. In fact, these activities can allow the company to minimize its operating costs.
This is one the key reasons why fun and humor are accepted or at least tolerated by modern business administrators.
Additionally, we need to discuss the culture which can emerge due to the influence of humor and fun.
Such companies as Google create leisure-oriented workplace, allow employees to ride scooters in the office in effort to reduce work stress (Bolton & Houlihan, 2009, p 558).
The management of this corporation encourages or at least does not prohibit the personnel to have fun. As a result, the employees of this corporation have formed a distinct type of identity that is different from other companies.
The business culture of Google has become associated with empowerment, relative autonomy of the employees, and youth. On the whole, it is possible to argue that humor and fun liberalize the managerial policies of an organization and makes them less formalized and bureaucratic.
Nevertheless, business administrators should remember at the same time, humor and fun can lead to excessively familiar relations between the management and front-line personnel; in particular, one should remember about those situations when interpersonal relations become more important than workplace responsibilities.
Yet, such scenario is possible only in those cases when the management cannot draw a distinct line between interpersonal and workplace relations.
This analysis indicates that the influence of humor and fun on the managerial policies and employee relations is not universal. The outcomes depend on the size of an organization, demographic structure, its dominant business culture, and workplace hierarchy.
As a rule, they lead to the liberalization of relations between the senior management and frontline personnel. In such environment, the employees feel free to express their opinions.
By encouraging the workers to have fun, the management can promote better teamwork and brainstorming practices. Yet, the most crucial question is how to define humor and fun so that they would be applicable to modern work environment.
They must not evolve into familiarity, negligence, and over-permissiveness, since they can weaken the company’s performance. These are the most important questions that the management should remember about.
Baptiste N. 2009. Fun and well-being: insights from senior managers in a local authority. Employee Relations. 31 (6), p 600-612.
Bolton S. & Houlihan M. 2009 Are we having fun yet? A consideration of workplace fun and engagement. Employee Relations 31, (6), pp 556-559.
Greenberg. J. (2010). Insidious Workplace Behavior. London: Routledge.
Fleming P. & Sturdy A. Just be yourself!” Towards neo-normative control in organisations? Employee Relations, (31), 6, p 569-583.
Karl, K. and Peluchette, J. 2006, Does workplace fun buffer the impact of emotional exhaustion on job dissatisfaction? A study of health care workers, Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management, 7 (2), pp. 128-41.
Kinnie, N., Hutchinson, S. and Purcell, J. (2000), Fun and surveillance: the paradox of high commitment management in call centres, International Journal of Human Resource Management, 11 (5), pp. 967-85.
Lamm E. & Meeks M. Workplace fun: the moderating effects of generational differences. Employee relations, 31, (6), p 613-631
Macky, K., Gardner, D. and Forsyth, S. (2008), Generational differences at work: introduction. and overview. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 28 (8), pp. 857-61.
Plester B. 2009. Crossing the line: boundaries of workplace humour and fun. Employee Relations. 31, (6), pp 584-599.
Stromberg. S. & Karlsson. J. 2009. Rituals of fun and mischief: the case of the Swedish meatpackers. Employee Relations (31), 6, pp 632-647.
Zemke, R., Raines, C. and Filipczak, B. (Eds) 2000. Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace. NY: Amacon,
1 The generation of people born after the World War II.
2 People who were born between 1960 and 1980
3 People who were born between 1980 and 2000
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Introduction Modern scholars as well as business administrators attempt to identify those factors which impact people’s attitude toward their jobs, their willingness to remain with the company, and contribute to […]