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Whatever Gets You Through Today: An Examination of Cynical Humor Among Emergency Service Professionals

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Abstract

Of the multiple types of coping used by those working in emergency services, one of the most familiar is cynical, gallows, or “black” humor. This article reviews the theoretical and research literature on humor, and specifically black humor, and suggests that it is not only almost universally utilized by emergency personnel, but that it is vital to their profession. In stressful life-and-death situations, individuals use black humor as a method of venting their feelings, eliciting social support through the development of group cohesion, and distancing themselves from a situation, ensuring that they can act effectively.
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... Medical setting is the focus of the present study, as also in workplaces, humor resulted to be an efficacy strategy to buffer job stress, to enhance job satisfaction, and therefore, to contribute to workplace well-being (e.g., [40][41][42][43]). Likewise, the use of coping humor-in its diverse facets-by HCWs has been found to promote subjective well-being [23,35,44], to promote beneficial interactions and rapports with patients, when properly negotiated [23,[44][45][46][47]), and to enhance social cohesion among co-workers [23,44], even via gallows humor [48]. ...
... Only recently, coping humor among Italian HCWs has been investigated: in a study, the Italian HCWs who reported higher use of humor-based coping strategies perceived the situation as less stressful in comparison with those who reported less use of coping humor, during the COVID-19 outbreak [35]. The general protective power of humor against life-threatening and stressful situations is an acknowledged result within the literature, and it has also been confirmed in studies on HCWs (e.g., [23,44,48]). As a result, humor-based interventions to promote and support mental health and well-being have been put forward (for an overview, see [102]) also for HCWs (e.g., [103]), and their efficacy investigated (e.g., [104,105]). ...
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The Coping Humor Scale (CHS) is a seven-item tool widely used to assess the use of humor in coping with stressful situations. The beneficial effect of humor in buffering the impact of negative experiences has been investigated in several contexts and populations; for this reason, the CHS has been used in many languages, but its solid validation in Italian is still missing. Our study aimed at building a robust instrument to measure coping humor strategies among Italian health care workers, a category which has been particularly exposed to stressful situations in the last two years. The CHS translated into Italian was administered to a sample of 735 health care workers during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy. Confirmatory factor analysis and Rasch analysis were performed. As a result, a six-item Robust Italian Coping Humor Scale (RI-CHS) was validated and ready to use for future studies on Italian health care workers' samples. This study gives evidence that our six-item solution works as a ruler (i.e., an instrument that meets the conditions of fundamental measurement in the context of the human sciences) to measure the degree to which Italian health care workers rely on humor to cope with stress.
... That disengagement could be as a result of being exposed to aggressive humor, which as Mathew and Vijayalakshmi (2017) previously argued was considered detrimental to health. Yet some evidence also suggests that the darker side of humor (aggressive) can help employees cope with stressful situations (Rowe & Regehr, 2010). Plester (2016) suggests that, in general, "humour may be used to spice up the banal and tone down the terrifying" (p. ...
... The use of dark humor-that would appear callous or inappropriate to outsiders-served as a coping mechanism for those involved. As Rowe and Regehr (2010) suggest, this cynical and dark humor appeared to help those involved cope with the challenging circumstances of their work. Hochschild (2012) also identify that these employees require a high degree of emotional labor to undertake their work. ...
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The aim of this systematic review was to develop a thematic synthesis of existing qualitative studies to explore the use of humor in employee-to-employee workplace communication and provide a greater understanding of this area of research through the experiences of employees. A number of databases were searched using key terms and papers were selected using pre-specified criteria. The thematic synthesis approach of Thomas and Harden was used to review the final 23 papers. The findings from the thematic synthesis resulted in four temporal themes that described how humor was utilized during an employee’s organizational transition: (1) initiation into organizational humor, (2) joining a “tribe”—in-groups and out-groups, (3) exerting influence—humor as power, and (4) using the safety valve—humor to relieve tension. The temporal themes described in this study crossed organizational and cultural divides, where humor formed an essential part of work-based dialog.
... However, dark humor is based on deviations from values and transgression of social norms; it can provoke positive (e.g., amusement) and negative (e.g., shame or disgust) emotions (Aillaud & Piolat, 2012). Despite the possible negative effects, dark humor is useful in critical situations in the healthcare sector where, for example, professionals can utilize humor to convey thought and cope with calamity (Dean & Major, 2008;Rowe & Regehr, 2010). ...
... The informant compared the scene to IP misappropriation via hidden contractual clauses in OI collaboration (i.e., IP misappropriation is attributed to the metaphor of vital organ removal). Informant_3 employs dark humor to reframe (Oswick et al., 2002) a negative situation and create a psychological distance from potentially traumatic events (Rowe & Regehr, 2010), likely because the informant (and organization) do not have a direct stake in the described cases. Obviously, the distancing is a caring reaction, despite the difference in stakes relative to an OI partner. ...
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While creating value in open innovation (OI) requires knowledge sharing, appropriating value in OI entails some closedness and protectiveness. Hence, tensions between generating and appropriating value, known as the paradox of openness, may emerge in OI collaborations. Such tensions have been scarcely explored at the micro-level, even though it is a crucial piece to fully grasping the paradox of openness. Our study bridges this gap by examining individuals' affective responses to tensions and their outcomes in OI, thereby capturing the micro-foundations of the paradox of openness. The study adopts an inductive qualitative approach and delineates various micro-level coping mechanisms that build on figurative language and humor. Accordingly, our study reveals hidden tolls of the paradox of openness, highlighted by the dominance of destructive rather than constructive affective responses. These hidden tolls illuminate a "dark side" of OI, which taps into the potential failures and high costs of opening up.
... Related to this, emergency responders including police, firefighters and ambulance workers are known to use dark or "gallows" humor as a way of distancing themselves from traumatic scenes encountered in their work, such as dead, burned and mangled human bodies (Charman, 2013;Dangermond et al., 2022). The use of such humor is a valuable way to replace negative thoughts and emotions with more positive ones, and is associated with better adjustment for emergency service professionals (Rowe and Regehr, 2010). ...
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Objective Stress is a growing problem in the general population, but most especially for workers responding to the COVID-19 crisis. The present study examines stress and Burnout in Health Care workers and Emergency Responders during the third COVID wave in Italy. In addition, we explore the value of psychological Hardiness and positive coping strategies as protective factors against the ill-effects of stress. Methods Over a 5-month period in 2021, surveys were administered across all Italian regions to several groups including Health Care workers ( N = 220), Emergency Responders (firefighters, civil protection, ambulance personnel; N = 121), volunteer Italian Red Cross workers ( N = 328), and a comparison group ( N = 400) drawn from the General Population of Italy. Results Results showed that among the groups, Health Care workers had the highest levels of Emergency Stress, while the Red Cross volunteers had relatively lower stress levels. Hardiness and positive coping levels were highest among Red Cross workers, and lowest in the General Population sample. The biggest impact on Burnout was seen among health care workers, especially on Emotional Exhaustion and Depersonalization. Multiple regression results showed that Hardiness operates as a moderator of the effects of Emergency Stress on Emotional Exhaustion and Depersonalization aspects of Burnout, while problem focused coping and Stopping Negative Thoughts-Emotions also showed moderating effects. Conclusion These results suggest that Health Care workers and Emergency Responders would benefit from additional training in hardiness and positive coping skills.
... Black or "gallows" humor presents a form of emotional avoidance that can help EMSP to quickly distance from adverse experiences (Moran, 2002). However, in the long-term, black humor may establish cynicism towards their patients in EMSP, and this attitude might compromise the emotional support they receive from their family and friends (Rowe & Regehr, 2010). In this study and previous studies (Cicognani et al., 2009;Prati et al., 2011), humor was assessed with two items, thus not allowing to differentiate humor styles. ...
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Background Emergency Medical Services personnel (EMSP) are recurrently exposed to chronic and traumatic stressors in their occupation. Effective coping with occupational stressors plays a key role in enabling their health and overall well-being. In this study, we examined the habitual use of coping strategies in EMSP and analyzed associations of coping with the personnel’s health and well-being. Method A total of N = 106 German Red Cross EMSP participated in a cross-sectional survey involving standardized questionnaires to report habitual use of different coping strategies (using the Brief-COPE), their work-related stress, work-related self-efficacy, job satisfaction, as well as mental and physical stress symptoms. Results A confirmatory factor analysis corroborated seven coping factors which have been identified in a previous study among Italian emergency workers. Correlation analyses indicated the coping factor “self-criticism” is associated with more work-related stress, lower job satisfaction, and higher depressive, posttraumatic, and physical stress symptoms. Although commonly viewed as adaptive coping, the coping factors “support/venting”, “active coping/planning”, “humor”, “religion”, and “positive reappraisal” were not related to health and well-being in EMSP. Exploratory correlation analyses suggested that only “acceptance” was linked to better well-being and self-efficacy in EMSP. Conclusion Our results emphasize the need for in-depth investigation of adaptive coping in EMSP to advance occupation-specific prevention measures.
... But when the laughter is not shared, it leads to exclusion as much as inclusion (Smith 2009). Particularly in customer service settings, it is important to understand how humour is perceived by customers to ensure we do not hurt anyone but amuse them; therefore, using humour must be based on a firm foundation of knowledge, professionalism, and empathy (Rowe & Regehr 2010). ...
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Humour plays a significant role in everyday interactions. Individuals perceive humour differently and experience various emotions, from exaltation to umbrage. Therefore, providing humorous communication in customer service is challenging. The aim of this study was to investigate the perception of humour in a tourism customer service context. In the first part of the study, representatives of Estonian tourism companies were asked their opinions about using humour in communication with their clients. They provided examples of the use of humour in customer service situations, which were then evaluated by potential tourists in the second part of the study. The results of the evaluation were analysed in relation to the respondents’ sense of humour. The findings were discussed in line with the four implicatures of humour.
... The juxtaposition of morbid and farcical elements in dark humor elicits two simultaneous perceptions: one, that the dark content constitutes a moral violation in which negative serious topics are mocked and, the other, an interpretation that the dark content is benign. Since dark humor treats negative serious ideas (like death, suffering of the victims or body integrity) in a light-hearted, playful manner (Charaudeau, 2006), it is not surprising that people use it as a coping strategy in stressful life-and-death situations (Christopher, 2015;Rowe & Regehr, 2010;van Wormer & Boes, 1997;Young, 1995). In the context of social judgment, dark humor might signal that the violation of moral rule (i.e., to kill someone) is fine and, therefore favor the utilitarian response. ...
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The influence of dark humor on moral judgment has never been explored, even though this form of humor is well-known to push the boundaries of social norms. In the present study, we examined whether the presence of dark humor leads female participants to approve a utilitarian response (i.e., to kill one to save many) in sacrificial dilemmas. The effects of two types of humorous contexts were compared (i.e., dark vs. nondark) on dilemmas, which differed according to whom benefits from the crime (i.e., oneself and others vs. others only). In addition to collecting moral responses, individuals’ emotional states were assessed at three critical steps: Before and after reading the jokes and also after performing the moral judgment task. Our results revealed that dark and nondark humor similarly elicited a positive emotional state. However, dark humor increased the permissiveness of the moral violation when this violation created benefits for oneself. In self and other beneficial dilemmas, female participants in the dark humorous condition judged the utilitarian response more appropriate than those in the nondark condition. This study represents a first attempt in deepening our understanding of the context-dependent nature of moral judgment usually assessed in sacrificial dilemmas.
... Estes dados estão de acordo com outros estudos anteriores (62), mas contrariam outros realizados com populações similares, em que as estratégias de coping focado no problema são as mais utilizadas (60,61). Algumas estratégias focadas nas emoções, como é o caso do humor, podem ter um efeito positivo, uma vez que possibilita um distanciamento emocional entre os profissionais e a situação, promovem um sentido de mestria a lidar com as exigências do seu trabalho e promovem a coesão grupal, criando um "código de grupo" (2,5,8,40,41,(79)(80)(81). Além disso, o facto de estes profissionais refletirem e conversarem sobre a situação e o seu desempenho com os seus colegas de tripulação e amigos (5,37,38,79), é uma oportunidade de reinterpretação positiva, crescimento pessoal e melhoria profissional (44). ...
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Introdução e objetivos Em Portugal, uma das entidades que opera no contexto de emergência pré-hospitalar é a Cruz Vermelha Portuguesa. Trabalhar a este nível é considerado uma atividade de risco, entre eles a exposição a níveis elevados de stresse, que pode originar o desenvolvimento de problemas de saúde. Os principais objetivos deste estudo foram descrever o perfil destes operacionais considerando variáveis de saúde, trabalho, coping e suporte social, explorar diferenças de idade/género, bem como a relação entre estas variáveis. Metodologia Realizou-se um estudo transversal e recorreu-se aos seguintes instrumentos: General Health Questionnaire– 28, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist 5, Warr’s Job-Related Affective Well-Being Scale, Brief COPE e o Survey of Perceived Organizational Support. Resultados e Conclusões Os resultados mostraram níveis satisfatórios de saúde em geral e bem-estar psicológico, bons níveis de satisfação com o trabalho e níveis moderados de suporte social percebido. As estratégias de coping mais utilizadas por estes socorristas foram o coping focado na emoção. As diferenças encontradas e as relações entre variáveis identificadas constituem pistas importantes a ter em conta no planeamento e execução de ações e intervenções com estes operacionais. Otimizar as condições de trabalho dos socorristas, disponibilizar apoio e promover o desenvolvimento de competências, serão contributos cruciais para a sua saúde e bem-estar psicológico, refletindo-se na qualidade do apoio que prestam à população. Palavras-chave: socorristas, saúde ocupacional, trabalho, coping, suporte social, psicologia do trabalho ou das organizações.
... Humorous individuals were also able to positively evaluate their under-performance on selfthreatening tasks (Geisler & Weber, 2010) which strongly suggests that the conscious use of humour encompasses a stress-mediating impact. However, it cannot be ignored that humour has also been associated with cynical intentions (Kosenko & Rintamaki, 2010;Rowe & Regehr, 2010). ...
Chapter
Post-traumatic growth in policing: How officers grow in many important ways through a long career. This is a far more positive and optimistic approach to mental health and policing framed by post-traumatic growth theory and confirmed by the officers’ interviews, the majority of whom had enjoyed their careers and who would “do it all again in a heartbeat”. This chapter has a clear focus on the benefits that flow from a career in policing, the significant increases in self-awareness and the long term satisfaction that comes from such service. The qualitative interviews allowed officers to express positive perspectives on “the job” and its significance to the society they serve. Clear linkages are made here with the theory of post-traumatic growth and how participants described its importance to their professional and personal growth. At the end of each interview, I asked participants, “on a scale of 1–10, 1 being, I have just wasted my life working in a dysfunctional organization, with little achieved and few positive outcomes and 10 being I loved every minute of my career and would do it all again” most answered above 7 or 8.
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