The issue of fun at work is one of those peculiar topics. You’d imagine that if people are enjoying what they do, then they’ll be more engaged and productive at work. Indeed, studies have shown this to be the case, with a recent paper revealing that happier employees were around 12 percent more productive than their sadder peers.
So you might imagine that a boss with a good sense of humor would be just the ticket in the workplace? Alas, a recent study from Washington University in St. Louis suggests things aren’t quite as straight forward as that.
The project found that having a boss with a sense of humor can be something of a mixed blessing. Whilst humor can help to motivate and engage employees, it can also create a culture whereby people feel empowered to break the rules.
Often humor revolves around a violation of norms, but it’s usually crucial that the violation is a benign one. If the leader jokes about in this way on a regular basis however, it sends a message to their team that violations are acceptable.
“You’re sending out signals implicitly telling your employees it’s OK to violate some norms,” the authors say. “What’s worse: Bosses who use “aggressive humor”— put-downs, insults and sarcasm — exacerbate the bad and undermine the benefits of office humor.”
Suffice to say, the authors aren’t advocating that leaders should never use humor at work, merely that they should be aware of the possible side effects, especially given their position as a role model for their team.