Humor in the Workplace: It's Good for Your Career and Business

By Robert Half on January 9, 2017 at 2:30pm

Success in the office is no laughing matter. Or is it? While they need to take their work seriously, accounting and finance professionals shouldn’t always take themselves that way — because humor in the workplace is a good thing.

In a Robert Half survey, roughly four in five (79 percent) CFOs said an employee’s sense of humor plays an important role in how well he or she fits in with the company’s corporate culture.

"We can improve our connection to people via humor," Jim Kwapick, a Robert Half district president, remarked. Not only that, maintaining a little levity can help colleagues build rapport, alleviate tension in the office and foster a positive corporate culture.

“Smart leaders — and smart people in general — want to enjoy their work, in addition to producing a good product,” said Josh Warborg, another Robert Half district president. “Happy people also typically produce better work.”

On the flip side, an environment devoid of the occasional joke might lead to higher stress and lower morale. According to Warborg, “A humorless, stressful workplace will ultimately lead to long-term turnover.”

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How can you use your sense of humor in the workplace? These three tips can help.

1. Don’t take yourself too seriously

“It is always easiest and safest to show humor by poking fun at oneself,” said Kwapick. Without going overboard, be able to laugh at yourself. This will make you more approachable and easier for people to work with.

Tell a joke, if you're comfortable with that, but avoid trying to be funny if it doesn’t come naturally, though. Having a sense of humor is about maintaining the proper perspective, regardless of the situation, not firing off one-liners.

2. Laugh with your coworkers — but never at them

Hearty group laughter can reduce stress, improve health and help foster good working relationships. At the same time, targeting others for a chuckle isn't fun at all. Watch the sarcasm, which can be interpreted as demeaning or insulting, and it can actually increase stress.

3. Keep it appropriate

We hope it goes without saying, but it bears repeating: Topics like race, gender, sex, age, national origin, sexual orientation, religion and disabilities are off-limits. Also skip negative humor, which can be defined as any joke that is at the expense of another person, organization or group of people.

And, no matter how tempting it may be, don’t forward emails containing jokes, “funny” images or videos. You never know what an employee may consider offensive, and taking a chance something will provoke laughter just isn’t worth the risk.

Laughter as a management tool

While some bosses may be concerned about showing their lighter side to an employee, the ability to smile or have some fun is a valuable asset in the workplace.

“The old adage is that people do not leave a company but rather leave a boss,” said Kwapick. “Humor, appropriately used, diffuses stressful situations, gets folks smiling and creates a positive buzz.”

Your good temperament and ability to maintain levity in the workplace will make people want to work for you. They’ll also be more confident coming to you when they need help and in times of crisis. In addition, you’ll be more likely to establish your company as an attractive employer and boost retention.

Keep laughing, and keep reading! Subscribe to the Robert Half Blog for the latest hiring and compensation trends, and management advice.

Editor's note: This post was updated recently with new information.

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