According to a Robert Haft International 1985 survey only 15% of workers are fired because of lack of competence. The remaining 85% are let go because of their inability to get along with fellow employees. When asked about the qualities of an effective employee, senior administrators and human relations personnel often check humor as the number one choice for attributes of a desired employee.

Why has humor become a recognized asset in the workplace? Humor facilitates communication, builds relationships, reduces stress, energizes, and promotes attendance.

Humor provides a non-threatening medium through which an employee or employer can communicate with others without intensifying the emotional temperature of the relationship. Consider the frazzled secretary who posts the sign “I have only two speeds, and if this one isn’t fast enough then I’m sure you’re not going to like my other.” Or the somewhat scattered boss whose messy desk is complimented with a note that says, “A Creative Mess is better than Tidy Idleness.” The message is clear, yet the communication is done in a light and, therefore, less stressful way. The secretary’s sign pokes fun at the situation, and the boss’s note pokes some fun at himself.

The development of staff cohesion and a sense of team effort in the workplace can be effectively facilitated by the use of humor. Bulletin boards, electronic mail, intra-office memos, voice mail, etc. all offer mediums through which we can share humor with co-workers. Office jokes taking the seriousness of work lightly provide us with the opportunity to become more connected with others.

Work is often associated with stress, and we know that stress is one of the main causes of illness, absenteeism, employee burn-out, etc. Humor is a great stress reliever because it makes us feel good, and we can’t feel good and feel stress simultaneously. At the moment we experience humor, feelings like depression, anger, and anxiety dissolve. Humor and, its partner, laughter also reduce stress by activating the physiological systems including the muscular, respiratory, cardiovascular, and skeletal. In fact, we may even lose muscle control, as many of us have, when we laugh so hard that we lose control. When we laugh we feel physically better, and after laughter we feel lighter and more relaxed.

Humor energizes people and promotes good attendance. We know that all good speakers have many jokes, stories, and anecdotes that are shared in order to command attention and energize the audience. Humor wakes us up and increases our focus. An office bulletin board loaded with cartoons, one liners, jokes, pictures, etc. is one way to invite humor into the workplace. A few moments of humor at work can lead to increased productivity as the newly energized employee returns to his or her task.

In working environments where humor is supported there develops a culture that utilizes the humor to reduce stress and provide perspective. We have all heard humor directed at lawyers, doctors, scientists, engineers, business persons, teachers, administrators, etc.

Learning to laugh at ourselves and our work lightens the load, and at the end of the day we will find that we actually get more work done.