Humor and Why It is Important at Workplace Today

The renowned American writer and humorist Mark Twain said, “Humor is the great thing, the saving thing after all.” The moment humor crops up, all our resentment and irritations flit away, the hardness yields, and sunny spirit assume the place (Twain and Blaisdell, 11). Mark is not off beam. Humor may certainly be a great thing in human lives. Humor touches upon virtually every aspect of life. Researchers have concluded that about 81% of women and 90% of men cite a sense of humor as among the most vital quality of a life partner. It has even been established to improve some treatment processes, particularly for cancer, depression, and in the workplace, humor is regarded as an important quality. There is no doubt that humor is a life skill we all need. But what is humor, and how does it precisely impact our workplace.

Humor and Its Origin

The best approach to killing a sense of humor is to clarify it, but researchers, psychologists, and philosophers have tried to do so anyway. Three theories have been postulated, explaining what humor is and its origin. The relief theory first sketched in a 1709 essay by Lord Shaftesbury, “An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humor,” argues that humor and laughter are methods to blow off psychological steam and relieve psychic energy that has built up pressure in our nerves (Shaftesbury). That is why a sense of humor cracked at a funeral is often met with uproarious laughter contrary to the calmness that a somber circumstance like that would merit. Thinkers, including Sigmund Freud and Herbert Spencer, later relooked at Shaftesbury’s biology concerning Relief Theory but retained the idea that humor relieves built-up nervous energy. For instance, Spencer argued that emotions are a physical form of nervous energy, which beget muscular motion and is released when it rises to a certain intensity (Spencer 299). A sense of humor, and consequently the laugher, helps to release this buildup of muscular energy.

The superiority theory, originally formulated by Aristotle and Plato, explains a particular type of humor: why humans tend to laugh at others’ calamities. For superiority theory, humor is derived from declaring an individual’s superiority over other people and their former state. The modern proponent of superiority theory is Scruton Roger, who defined laughter as an “attentive demolition” of an individual or something connected with the person. If a person hates being laughed at, that is possible because laughter devalues the object in the eyes of the subject (Morreall, 127). This is not probably the kind of humor you want to nurture if you intend to cultivate a sense of humor as a leadership skill.

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The last theory discussed in this section is the congruity theory. The theory holds that humor emanates when two contrasting and different ideas are intermingled. In such a case, humor always topples expectations, and punchlines often result from unexpected reversal. Oscar Wilde’s humor, “Work is the curse of the drinking classes,” is the widely cited example of this theory. It is argued that the humor was funny during its days because it reverses a common phase and subverts a conventional approach of perceiving the world (Lintott, Sheila, 351). But probably, this dry explanation might have killed the humor in the phrase, and it may not look funny in the least right now. The philosophy behind congruity theory is that humor is the perception of something incongruous/odd, which violates our mental designs and expectations (Gruner, 22).  The theory has been adopted by modern psychologists and philosophers and is currently the dominant approach to understanding humor in psychology and philosophy.

Why Is Humor Important In the Workplace?

Researchers have proposed several benefits of humor in the workplace. Humor improves productivity at work by reducing stress and burnout and providing motivation to work. Humor generates an environment if levity and a sense of viewpoint can ease tension, protect the workforce from work stress, and improve health and wellbeing (Patsala, Lampreli, and Priporas, 321). Study shows that individuals who engage in more workplace conversational humor with coworkers are more likely to feel happier and exhibits greater job satisfaction. Furthermore, laughter strengthens social bonds (Patsala, Lampreli, and Priporas, 314). One evolutionary theory maintains first emerged among our ancestors as a response to indicate safety and relief to others following unexpected occurrences (Knight and Lewis, 436). The philosophy implies in the contemporary times, explaining why coworkers who make fun and laugh together enjoy a more comfortable and safe work environment and greater team cohesion (Garner, Chandler, and Wallace 111). Feeling more comfortable in the work setting has been shown to empower employees to think openly and creatively and take risks, the basis for developing creative solutions at work and contributing to employee productivity. Further study shows that organizational leaders who apply humor at work often reach their unit targets and get higher performance ratings from their supervisors (Lee, Deogro, 12). Hence, humor promotes workforce productivity by creating an open and free work environment.

            Humor makes organization leaders more likable and approachable. Hence, they become easy to work with. Study shows that when supervisors incorporate humor as part of their leadership style, they become likable and approachable while maintaining influence and respect (Gockel and Vetter, 48). Furthermore, a survey has established that employees who believe that their leader “makes us laugh at ourselves when we are too serious” or adopt humor to calm the situation during a stressful time where more likely to trust their leader and feel a sense of contentedness and belonging in the workplace (Wijewardena, Härtel, and Samaratunge, 1216). Further study shows that a hint of self-deprecating humor is also a critical tool for managers and other organizational leaders and employees to be approachable. Self-deprecation is defined as the act of reprimanding oneself by undervaluing, belittling oneself, or being extremely modest. It has proven an excellent source of humor and stress release in the workplace and other social settings (Baffoe, Timothy). When employees and managers share such a style of self-effacing teasing, the employees often develop more professional respect for the managers.


            Humor boosts the workforce’s overall thinking, enhances brainpower, and improves decision-making and problem-solving ability. A dose of humor has been proven to improve the release of chemical serotonin in the brain, improve focus, and enhance objectivity, which improves overall brainpower (Amen 23). Besides, the chemical serotonin opens new space or prepares the brain for learning and enjoying what one does. It is also good for connection because the study shows people gravitate to humorous individuals because they love their work and give it the best. As a result, most people prefer to transact business with individuals who laugh at themselves (Swink 25). Humor also improves decision-making, a phenomenon closely linked to brainpower. Study shows that a positive mood enhances a more flexible decision-making process and improves analytic precision. Psychologists argue that positive emotions are greater markers of optimal, flourishing wellbeing (Wijewardena, 1324).

Humor also improves the workforce’s ability to solve problems. Researchers have concluded that putting people in a positive mood through humor can approach problems creatively (Newman, 21). Studies further show that a joke that makes one feel good about themselves is also likely to help them think more creatively and broadly. The elation of occasions hearing a good or positive joke is comparable to what people are surprised with unexpected gifts. Such elation is shown to facilitate creative thinking and innovation (Newman, 21). Besides, Koç and Arslan also suggest that people who often watch short comedy films of television programs are more cable to find creative solutions to puzzling problems than those who exercise or watch films. The findings suggest the importance of casual jokes at the workplace, particularly in enhancing employees’ effectiveness through creative problem-solving.

Humor has also been shown to improve communication in the workplace. Researchers provide different functions and definitions of humor in the workplace regarding this dynamic. Some argue that it comprises amusing communication that can generate positive cognition and emotion in a person, group, or organization (Sen, 2). In other studies, humor is perceived as any shared event by an agent such as an employee with another person, the target, envisioned to be humorous to the target, and considered an intentional act (Cooper 22). As such, humor serves several functions such as bonding, cohesiveness, integration, subversion of power, and stress relief, which are positively correlated to improving communication (Cooper 22). Further concerning humor and communication, some researchers have argued that humor is a discrete social behavior that the producer deliberately generates for the audience and influences the audience’s positive affect. The audience’s positive affect can be passed to others within the organization or the setting via emotional contagion or the principle that emotional conditions are contagious. A classic example is how one feels in the presence of a depressed individual versus when they are with a happy and uplifting person (Rosenberg, Caroline, et al. 33). The latter makes communication and interaction easier. Humor has also been found to boost persuasion in the workplace. Humor can be helpful as a persuasive tool when passing a message that people disagree with because humor distracts audiences from quickly developing counterarguments (Rosenberg, Caroline, et al. 21). The audience may not easily feel that the message is being forced down their throats

Overall, this study explores humor, its meaning and origin, and its influence on the workplace. The meaning of humor is primarily derived from three theories: relief, congruity, and superiority theories, which all define humor from different perspectives, as discussed in this paper. This research also found that humor plays a critical role in the workplace, including relieving stress, making organization leaders more likable and approachable, improving the workforce’s overall thinking, and enhancing communication.