The benefits of humor for general well‐being have long been touted. Past empirical research has suggested that some of these benefits also exist in the work domain. However, there is little shared understanding as to the role of humor in the workplace. The purpose of this paper is to address two main gaps in the humor literature. First, the authors summarize several challenges researchers face in defining and operationalizing humor, and offer an integrative conceptualization which may be used to consolidate and interpret seemingly disparate research streams. Second, meta‐analysis is used to explore the possibility that positive humor is associated with: employee health (e.g. burnout, health) and work‐related outcomes (e.g. performance, job satisfaction, withdrawal); with perceived supervisor/leader effectiveness (e.g. perceived leader performance, follower approval); and may mitigate the deleterious effects of workplace stress on employee burnout.
The authors examine the results of prior research using meta‐analysis ( k =49, n =8,532) in order to explore humor's potential role in organizational and employee effectiveness.
Results suggest employee humor is associated with enhanced work performance, satisfaction, workgroup cohesion, health, and coping effectiveness, as well as decreased burnout, stress, and work withdrawal. Supervisor use of humor is associated with enhanced subordinate work performance, satisfaction, perception of supervisor performance, satisfaction with supervisor, and workgroup cohesion, as well as reduced work withdrawal.
Profitable avenues for future research include: clarifying the humor construct and determining how current humor scales tap this construct; exploring the role of negative forms of humor, as they likely have different workplace effects; the role of humor by coworkers; a number of potential moderators of the humor relationships, including type of humor, job level and industry type; and personality correlates of humor use and appreciation.
The authors recommend caution be exercised when attempting to cultivate humor in the workplace, as this may raise legal concerns (e.g. derogatory or sexist humor), but efforts aimed at encouraging self‐directed/coping humor may have the potential to innocuously buffer negative effects of workplace stress.
Although psychologists have long recognized the value of humor for general well‐being, organizational scholars have devoted comparatively little research to exploring benefits of workplace humor. Results underscore benefits of humor for work outcomes, encourage future research, and offer managerial insights on the value of creating a workplace context supportive of positive forms of humor.