The Ups and Downs of Humor and Laughter in the Workplace

Laughter contributes to creating a healthy work environment by drawing groups closer. A relaxed atmosphere invites honest communication and provides opportunities to openly discuss sensitive topics without causing offense. Positive humor up-lifts co-workers and makes it fun to work together.

There can be a down-side to humor and laughter in the workplace. Negative come-backs and sarcasm may produce laughs but they frequently leave marks that hurt or offend. So does laughing at someone who feels embarrassed or making jokes and teasing someone about their mistakes or shortcomings. Hurtful humor intensifies frustrations, fears and worries. Negative humor corrodes the work environment, damages trust and lowers morale.

Even when humor is used with the purest of intentions, it might backfire.Especially during times of uncertainty, people tend to act more serious. Another reason is that humor is not one-size-fits all. What you find to be funny may not be appreciated by some. Or when you split a gut because you were caught off guard by someone’s foolishness, you might be perceived to be making fun of them.

What precautions can you take to make sure that your humor and laughter lighten-up your work atmosphere instead of drag it down? 

Carefully consider your motives. Are you using humor in an attempt to put someone at ease or take a dig at them? Was your true intention to diffuse an embarrassing moment, or were you purposely drawing unwanted attention to a situation to get a laugh at another person’s expense?

What emotions do you feel or project? Kindness and caring? Anger? Bitterness?
Do you pay close attention to how someone responds to your humor? Do they smile, relax and chuckle with you? Or do they stiffen or look agitated?

Any time your humor or laughter makes someone uncomfortable or offends, take notice and immediately apologize. Explain your true intention or what prompted you to laugh. Make a mental note about their soft spot, so you can be sensitive to them in the future.

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