The Positive Effects of Humor in the Workplace

 The Quest for Success: The Hidden Gem of Business

By: Denisa Holeckova, Lauren Bernard, Thompson Imasogie, Tim LaPlante, Katie O’Brien

What’s the secret behind running a successful and profitable business? Much like Indiana Jones and his quest for the Golden Mayan Statue, we too have struck gold. The secret of business success has finally been uncovered, and we’re here to tell you firsthand what’s in this clandescent treasure chest. There are many components that make up a functioning and lucrative business. These components act much like jewels on a ring, surrounding the center stone, and enhancing the remarkability of the piece. Without the center stone, the piece is not complete. The jewels of business management, human resources, and even psychology garnish the exceptional stone and together they make up an unprecedented success story. Before discovering the treasure chest, the whereabouts of the center stone were unknown, but as we had hoped, the stone was indeed a part of our treasure. The center stone is the gem of Humor. The Humor gem unites all the jewels together, forming a successful and lasting masterpiece. Continue on and experience the many ways the Humor gem can be a business saving grace, as we go on to explain its benefits that business owners and managers often forget about.MIchael-Office-NBC-1.JPG

The renowned treasure cove containing all operations large and small

The hunt begins as we venture into the tall grass of the corporate jungle scoping out the treasure. The legendary treasure cove awaits your discovery, containing a plethora of loot ensuring your success. Amidst the plentiful cove, people often wonder what it takes to succeed when in reality, it takes nothing more than a little. Think about any business that you see around you, particular those associated with customer service. You walk into any office and what do you see? People sitting in cubicles avoiding social interaction?  Yes and no. Every business needs a combination of two things: employees that want to work, and a reason. If you give your employees a reason, and encourage social interaction, make them laugh every now and again, it will create a tidal wave of loyalty that will inspire productivity. Think of your office like a family. If your family is unhappy then more than likely you will be unhappy. If they are comfortable and happy, then you will be as well. Your workplace is meant to be somewhere where you can be productive. But how exactly can you reach the maximum productivity? Consider humor for example. A study called the The Wheel Model of Humor indicates that laughter and humor is practically contagious, and that once initiated, virtually everyone gets a dose of laughter somewhere along the line (Robert and Wilbanks, 2012). This occurs even if the joke wasn’t even heard, all it takes is the sound of laughter to get a smile, or a chuckle, or just a good hearty laugh rolling.

The hidden gems of business success present a multitude of reasons as to why they are helpful, but it would probably be better for you to understand how this could become profitable over time. Let’s consider examples set by companies that have been around for decades. Companies such a SouthWest Airlines provide outstanding, if not exemplary customer service to their customers.  SouthWest Airlines not only provides the service of transporting their passengers, but they aim to make their passengers feel comfortable while on the flight. SouthWest has survived for so long by utilizing the simple rule “happy employees equals happy customers.” (, 2013) Some companies aim to provide more of a service and give the customer their product while others aim to connect with the customers themselves. It is fundamental to establish these relationships in order to get to know the customers better.  One of the many benefits of humor comes from the very interaction with the customers. SouthWest airlines greets their customers and entertain them in flight. While waiting at the gate, attendants are given books with games to play with passengers pre-flight if delayed. Onboard, attendants even do impersonations of famous actors or singers such as Mr. Rogers, or Elvis while making announcements (, 2013). Other attendants are more famous for their rapping skills such as David Holmes, a Las Vegas based flight attendant, or the “Rhythmic Ambassador” as introduced at the annual GAAP meeting by Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines (Mccartney, 2013).

This generates profit because of customer word-of-mouth. Review submissions from anywhere to SouthWest Airlines directly, or personal blog postings will allow for customers to go back and fly using that airline. How is this profitable? Talk to the customer, give them their product, and encourage them to return. Given that it is the twenty-first century, you are near guaranteed that somewhere on the internet, somebody is giving a good review. Someone else sees this review and has to try this out for themselves. For small businesses, Angie’s List is probably one of the greatest tools that you can use to your advantage solely due to what customers give you for a review, it would allow for your business to grow.  By providing a good product, more business is generated, and more customers are spreading the news.

In terms of market, who could your target audience be? In this case; everyone! Greet any and every customer as an old friend, be polite, express your happiness to see them, and always keep a friendly environment around you. For your employees, do the same. Being friendly promotes a healthy work environment, which is one of the predominant keys to success. However when at work, be careful with your humor, as crossing the line as one joke taken the wrong way can disturb the zen environment.

The power of ethics can either help you or seriously hurt you trying to pursue success, so prepare yourself for a challenge

While there are clues to help us find our treasure, some of them can be tricky; and if use and interpret them wrong, we will never reach our goal. You should be paying special attention when using humor as one of your clues for reaching business success. Using it inappropriately and unethically can have terrible consequences. So, if you’re looking for a little guidance, read on. Humor in the workplace can be anything from a friendly smile of a customer service representative to a fun team building afternoon with your coworkers. Typically however, when we say the word humor, first thing that comes to mind is some kind of a joke. A classic example might be “why did the blonde stare at the orange juice box? Because it said ‘concentrate’” (Sompayrac and Helms, 2007, p 66). Some people laugh when they hear a joke like that, others pretend the joke isn’t funny at all (while laughing inside of their head), and the rest finds it undeniably rude. So what is the rule for making sure that no one gets offended or hurt, or worse yet– refuses to work with you? This is where ethics come in play, because just like for any other work related behavior, it’s important to keep mind the right place and time for humor.

Now, you might be wondering what the rules of ethics are. Ethics is one of the most important studies of human communication and interaction that identifies what’s right and what’s wrong in a specific situation. It’s also one of the trickiest studies, since often times, we don’t really know what’s right or wrong. If you tell the joke above at work and your female blond co-worker hears it, you may be in for trouble. Not only is it considered disrespectful, but also highly unethical. If nothing else, such jokes can create a hostile work environment that certainly doesn’t help to promote positive employee relationships. In some circumstances, this kind of humor could potentially cost you a job for sexual harassment. The chances of losing a job are even higher for bosses, since they they are the ones responsible for creating and fostering positive work environment. In fact, studies show that inappropriate jokes tend be fairly well accepted from co-workers, but are rarely accepted when they come from bosses (Sompayrac and Helms, 2007, p68).


Southwest Airlines is known for not only their exceptional service but also for being one of the most humorous airlines around.

On the other hand, humor within the boundaries of ethics, which means that instead of laughing at people you laugh with them (for a good reason, obviously), is very positive and should even be encouraged in the workplace. A large study conducted with around 2,500 employees showed that using humor at work dramatically reduces stress and increases employee satisfaction and organizational commitment (Breeze & Dawson et al., 2013, p52). If you think about it, sharing a good laugh with someone breaks the ice and creates an initial bond, both of which are extremely important in the workplace when it comes to employee relationships. As we mentioned earlier, SouthWest Airlines has become famous and successful thanks to their fun-at-work attitude, which would not be possible if their campaigns were managed unethically. If you keep in mind the basic rules of ethics, you don’t have to be afraid of humor and your employees will appreciate the fun aspect of their job. In return, they will be more satisfied and motivated to work towards a common goal of your company, just like our treasure hunters work towards capturing the treasure.

Utilizing humor as a tool to motivate can help create a strong cohesive team

In addition to the power of ethics that you always need to consider, you should also keep in mind the power of motivation. Finding out what motivates people can be an extremely challenging task, often times because we as humans are so unique that finding out what motivates Indiana Jones may not motivate Lara Croft. In the business world, incentives are given each step of the way to help increase motivation which in turn helps generate improved employee performance. Because of that, understanding how to motivate employees becomes a key component to the success of any business (Hull, 2013). But what happens when these incentives fail to motivate?

The truth is incentives only work when the task at hand warrants the need for one. Moreover, people enjoy challenges, people like being pushed to their limit, and people like exploring new and innovative ways to either solve problems or get ahead (Pink, 2009). Pink uses the Candle Experiment from Karl Dunker and couples it with another by Sam Glucksberg to explain how incentives typically “dull creativity and block motivation”. The reality is that the reward versus punishment approach generally fails to motivate people and that these incentives are only applicable when task are clear cut and have a fixed set of rules. If the task does not then incentives don’t even matter. So much so that according to Pink “higher incentives lead to worse performances” (Pink, 2009). So with that said what is the best incentive to use to motivate your workers? Well when it comes developing an incentive to motivate workers the one component that has worked consistently over time is humor. Humor and laughter are all strong components that help improve cohesion in the workplace which has been proven to be one of the biggest factors in overall employee performance (McGhee, 2010). Groups become cohesive when there is a problem or task at hand, during which group members engage in casual and professional dialog and learn about each other. After a series of brainstorming, once a successful solution is developed, cohesion is then created (Alvarez, Butterfield, and Ridgway). Group similarity also plays a huge part in forming cohesiveness, the greater the similarities the easier it is for coworkers to obtain cohesiveness. Humor and cohesion go hand in hand because humor softens criticisms and helps relieve stressful situations which become all to common in the workplace (Weimer, 2013).

So whats the best way to get the best performance out of your workers? Well one thing that won’t work is a cheesy incentive.. unless of course that incentive comes in the form of a knock knock joke! The solution to said problem is not as simple as demanding your employees to become funny, but to create an environment/culture where such a dialog can take place. In fact, evidence suggest that if you allow employees to engage in something they want to do, (which) is playful, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation. Moreover, a humorous and playful atmosphere also triggers the creative side of your brain and it also helps for people to open up, which is a strong component in establishing cohesiveness (Tarkan, 2012). So perhaps not getting eaten by a pack of wild hyenas, avoiding the fall into a never ending pit, and escaping death from a group of angry barbarians might serve as an incentive to motivate some but it won’t work for others. From what we learned, incentives in a group setting fail to motivate when people in the group fail to become more cohesive! And as our treasure hunt shows one of the most important tools used to help facilitate cohesive interaction amongst group members is good ol’e humor. Research shows that there is a strong relationship between humor and leadership effectiveness and that humor serves to reduces stress in the workplace, motivate employees, and help employees understand management concerns by enhancing communication patterns (Trieber, 2004).  Humor creates a pleasant working environment, motivates employees, decreases anxiety and stress, boost moral, enhances problem solving skills, and increases creativity (Penn Behavioral Health, 2013). Exploring humor as a motivational tool to increase overall productivity can be the best investment any employer can make. Its cheap, efficient, and it all starts with just one laugh.

Even though things might get rough, keep your spirits up

In order to harness the power of humor, you need to understand it wholly, so we are going  to uncover some necessary background knowledge in psychology.  Psychology is at the heart of every business, understanding it’s role in the workplace can make a business more successful.  Making sure that employees are getting along and that they are productive at the same time are key issues on the minds of managers and human resource professionals. According to Karl and Peluchette (2006), they believe that we need to look beyond communication and productivity, then there is also a positive relationship between workplace humor and job satisfaction.  Employees and managers need to keep the customers’ needs and wants in mind when providing them service because they want to ensure that the customers return to their establishment; they can do this by keeping a positive attitude and incorporating humor when necessary.  Karl and Peluchette also say that humor does play a role in the overall vibes in the workplace, but employees should keep in mind that, people who have fun while working tend be in a more positive mood than people who do not and customers can pick up on those vibes (Karl & Peluchette, 2006).  Going off of those vibes, our brains can pick up on the underlying tones and body language that are given from an employee to a customer, so employees need to strive authentic and positive interactions with customers.

A more psychological approach/breakdown of what we’re looking at is in terms of an experiment  is the “cause and effect relationship between  […] job satisfaction or dissatisfaction and their consequences on people in the workplace” (Ghazzawi). There are several important chemicals that are released in your brain when you are happy, such as dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins and cortisol (Breuning). According to Shawn Achor, founder and CEO of Good Think, Inc.,  it’s important to become happy first, then focus on succeeding (Leader to Leader Journal).  Employees and managers can learn a lesson from this because learning how to be happy at work is a difficult concept to master, but if it is, their workplace will be stronger and benefit from happiness and humor in the long run.

When things get rough, our brain sends us signals to survive and keep our well being strong.  We need to keep in mind that sometimes we will be emotionally, physically and mentally strained, but it is important to keep our spirits up no matter what challenges we face.  Take this wisdom with you and hold onto it because your business will benefit from this and become more successful and productive overall.

Laughter nourishes the body, preserving the life you treasure

It is imperative to remain hopeful when seeking your personal treasure. Negative thoughts and activities have no place in achieving your goals. Having a positive outlook when things get tough will allow you to combat anything that comes your way. Stress is largely generalized, it messes with everything and causes more harm than good. This is particularly true in the business setting. In the workplace, stress is as common as a photocopier in the office. Stress is an annoying employee who will never retire and has no chance of ever getting fired. Stress is the enemy. It causes a negative work environment, damaging communication, and keeps you from performing at your best. Stress causes insomnia, depression, headaches, lack of motivation, irritability, and fatigue just to name a few. Its been credited for causing those angry outbursts on your employees, and those not too helpful side comments by your customers. (, 2013) Too much stress affects not just one aspect of your business, but all aspects. Think of stress as a domino effect. Say a customer just called telling you that they have decided to end their business relationship with you. This causes you to be upset and in a bad mood and in doing so you tell Kevin over in accounting that he needs to watch his weight. Now Kevin is thinking about talking to Human Resources and you’re even more stressed out than to begin with. That one stressor caused you to create another stressor and so on and so forth.  Stress is as detrimental for the body as it is for the mind. If you’re not feeling your best then you won’t be working your best, and your overall mood certainly won’t be at it’s best. You must strive to have your body, mind, and mood in a positive state more often than a negative one. The first step to achieving this goal is to combat that annoying co-worker named Stress.

Deep breathing exercises, meditation, and cutting ties with all the stressors in your life help eliminate stress, but the best eliminator? Laughter. When you think about relaxation techniques, one of the first things that come to mind is yoga. Yoga relaxes the body and in doing so relaxes the mind. Imagine for a moment if humor was included in yoga. How beneficial the outcome would be if two proven eliminators of stress combined into one. In 1995 Indian physician, Dr. Madan Kataria, developed this exact idea. “A yoga practitioner himself, he describes it as a unique exercise routine that combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing.” (, 2013) Kataria knew firsthand the benefits of yoga and how valuable humor is for your health. Laughter Yoga utilizes the idea that forced laughter ultimately leads to natural and genuine laughter. With minimal cognitive processes, the brain is able to focus on laughing which in turn eliminates stress from the body. After all, it is impossible to be uptight while genuinely laughing. Kataria started practicing Laughter Yoga with a handful of people in a public park, now there are over 6,000 Laughter Yoga clubs in over 60 countries (, 2013). Humor works.

It’s time for you to laugh at yourself, laugh with your employees, laugh with your customers, just laugh. Humor is the key to successful stress management. A good laugh has great short term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter stimulates many organs, activates and relieves your stress response, and soothes tension (, 2013). Laughter also relaxes the whole body by triggering the release of endorphins, the body’s feel good chemicals. These endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain. Long effects of humor and laughter may go on to improve your immune system, relieve long term pain, eliminate anxiety and negative moods, and increase personal satisfaction and how you cope with difficult situations (, 2013). Laughter increases group cohesiveness, strengthens relationships, and diminishes tension. An office that laughs together, stays together, and ultimately does the best business together.

Humor is a precious gem and we are hopeful that you now have all the knowledge that you need to go forth and reap its rewards. As noted by Mark Twain, “humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.” We have shown you the different components of a successful business and the benefits that emerge when humor is involved. We hope that you will use this treasured information and apply it to your own business and in your own workplace. We’ll be happy to hear from you to see how applying this knowledge works for your employees and company success. We can all have a good laugh about it!


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