Advice » In the Workplace» Work-Life Balance » Workplace Humor Done Right
Workplace Humor Done Right

Workplace Humor Done Right

Joan Steffen worked in a high-pressure sales office. On one particularly stressful day, Steffen decided to lighten the mood. 

“The boss couldn't find something she needed, so she hollered, ‘That does it! I WANT EVERY THING IN THIS OFFICE CORRECTLY LABELED BY TOMORROW MORNING!’” Steffen explains. “So I labeled all her file folders correctly -- and stuck small labels to everything else. Desk. Chair. Copier. Phone. Stapler. Dead Bug in Light Fixture.” It got everyone in the office laughing and relaxing -- including the boss. 

“Laughing releases tension and creates a feeling of camaraderie and connection among people,” explains Mark Chalfant, artistic and executive director of the Washington Improv Theater in Washington, DC. “When people feel closer to one another, it's a lot easier and more pleasant to work together. Plus, if you make everyone laugh, maybe they will forget that you took the last glazed doughnut at the team meeting.”

Find Your Funny Bone

You don’t have to be a candidate for “Last Comic Standing” to make humor work for you. Much of what makes people laugh isn’t snappy one-liners, but cogent observations through a slightly twisted lens or making light of the obvious absurdities of life.

“Levity is a learnable skill that can enrich your workplace culture and your personal life,” notes Scott Christopher, co-author of The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up. “It's not something you have to be born with. If you're a brow-knitter or a jaw-clencher by nature, it's not too late.”

To get your funny on, follow this advice from Steven Sultanoff, a professor at Pepperdine University and past president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor:

  • Teach yourself to look and think outside the box.  
  • Poke fun at events, not people.  
  • Look for absurdity and incongruity in situations to develop your sense of humor.

Suppress Your Inner Rickles

One person’s joke is another person’s insult, so humor in the workplace shouldn’t be used indiscriminately. “Always double-check your attempts at humor to make sure they wouldn’t generally be considered offensive to most people,” counsels Cathy Hart, vice president, human resources and central services for Opus Corp. in Minneapolis. “Mean-spirited humor isn’t, in fact, humor at all. It’s a passive-aggressive way to take out stress on others.”

How do you know? “If you have to say, ‘I was only kidding’ or ‘Can’t you take a joke?’ then you are likely using hostile humor,” Sultanoff says. To keep it playful, “use props like foam balls, wind-up toys, humorous signs, etc.”

Get Playful

For instance, when tensions get high at Social Sauce, a user-generated content and communication platform in New York City, combatants break out foam swords. “In an office of mostly Internet and tech males, the sword fights diffuse tension by allowing coworkers to play similarly to the online games they play or develop,” explains Jenn de la Vega, a marketing assistant there.

“I believe that the playful attitude associated with the swords allows a degree of comfort where coworkers can talk to each other honestly and approach each other when they disagree,” de la Vega adds.

Realize the Value of Workplace Humor

In the end, levity among the cubicles isn’t just good for you and your coworkers -- it benefits the business. “Fun and humor at work are proven characteristics of organizations with higher retention, engagement and profitability,” Christopher says.

“We worked with the Great Place to Work Institute -- you know them from Fortune's annual Best Places to Work issue -- and found that companies that scored the highest in fun and levity were the ones that made the list,” Christopher explains. “These companies, incidentally, produced up to five times higher returns on investment than the S&P 500 in one study.”

Articles in This Feature:

Latest Jobs

Posted: 06/30/2015
Boca Raton, FL, 33487
Posted: 06/30/2015
Boca Raton, FL, 33487
Posted: 06/30/2015
Philadelphia, PA, 19103
Posted: 06/30/2015
Exton, PA, 19341
Posted: 06/30/2015
Swedesboro, NJ, 08085

Want more personalized results?  Update Your Profile


Monster Communities

Teaching Community
Where teachers meet and learn.
Create and connect.
Networking for the career-minded woman.
Nursing Link
Where nurses call the shots.
More Monster Communities

Monster Partners

Scholarships, financial aid and more ways to pay for school.
Find top campus and online degree programs.
Military portal for the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
Financial Aid
Scholarships & financial aid.
Staffing for Government Jobs
Staffing and hiring solutions for federal government agency jobs.
More Monster Partners

Job Hunt Strategy

Six Ways to Make a Recruiter Hate You
If you want to blow your chances with recruiters -- and, by extension, with the companies they work for -- here are six perfect ways to do so.

Resumes & Cover Letters

Rev Up Your Resume to Relocate
Hoping to relocate? Get the ball rolling on landing the right job in the right location with these expert resume and cover letter tips.


100 Potential Interview Questions
Interview questions can run the gamut. You probably won't face all 100 of these, but you should still be prepared to answer at least some of them.

Salary & Benefits

10 Questions to Ask When Negotiating Salary
Most of us aren't natural negotiators, but asking these 10 questions during salary negotiations can help you get everything you deserve.

Employee Sourcing

Alt text
November Monster Employment Index Grows 13% Year-Over-Year, Tenth Consecutive Month of Positive Annual Growth.

For Seekers

Campus and Online Degrees
Advance your career and earn more with an online degree.
Free Salary Wizard
What are you worth? Find out and negotiate a better salary.
Research Careers
Get information on jobs and career paths to help guide your choices
Questions & Answers
Find answers to all your career related questions -- powered by Yahoo! Answers
Resume Distribution Service
Our distribution service puts your resume right in the hands of recruiters.
Resume Writing Services
Our experts will craft a keyword-rich resume that stands out in the crowd.
More Career Resources

For Employers

Career Ad Network
Target your job posting to more candidates on thousands of websites.
Hire Right Background Checks
Explore our background check packages to improve the quality of your hires.
Hiring Home Page
Find the best candidates for your business with Monster hiring solutions.
Job Postings
Find the right solution for your hiring needs. Starting at $99.
Power Resume Search
Monster's new search technology precisely matches people with your jobs.
Resource Center
Find staffing insights, labor trends, HR best practices and more.
Target Post
Connect with skilled, hourly and administrative candidates for only $99.

Social Media

Jobs on Twitter
Find jobs in your area and industry.
Monster Careers
Tune into our career advice and discussions tackling a wide range of topics and industries.
Monster Corporate & PR
Stay up-to-date on the latest news. Get the 'Who', 'What', 'When', and 'Why' on all things Monster related.
Monster Customer Service
Got a Monster question? We've got the answer. Whether you're a job seeker or employer, we can help you find the answers you need.
Monster for Employers
Find advice on hiring.
Follow Us
Check out our many pages and stay connected with the latest industry news, events, career advice and job openings.

Other Links

Monster Company Profiles
Explore companies and get information to guide your career decisions.
Compare Salaries
See how your pay stacks up to others in your field.
iPhone Application
Download the Monster app for iPhone and iPod touch.
Monster Job Seeker Blog
Monster Job Seeker Blog.
Monster Thinking Blog
Monster's Recruitment Trends Blog.
Jobs & Career Resources
Search Jobs:
For Employers: Post Jobs | Search Resumes | Advertise
About Monster | Work for Monster | Advertise with Us | AdChoices | Partner with Us | Investor Relations | Social Media
Terms of Use | Privacy Center | Accessibility Center | Help | Security | Contact Us | Sitemap | Mobile
©2015 Monster - All Rights Reserved U.S. Patents No. 5,832,497; 7,599,930 B1; 7,827,125 and 7,836,060 MWW - Looking for Monster Cable? - V: 2015.12.0.54-307