Recent research finds that a leader’s sense of humor can significantly increase employees’ sense of belonging while decreasing their feelings of workplace loneliness; both of which increase team performance (Yang, & Wen, 2021). It does, however, need to be the right kind of humor.
Aggressive or hostile humor conveys disapproval and contempt and is often more offensive than funny. In contrast, affiliate, and self-enhancing humor both involve telling jokes and humorous stories about topics everyone finds amusing. Affiliate humor strives to bring people together by finding the funny in everyday life, creating a sense of fellowship, happiness, and well-being. Self-enhancing humor reveals a leader’s good-natured attitude toward life, having the ability to laugh at themself, their circumstances, and their idiosyncrasies in a constructive, non-detrimental manner. This style of humor promotes creativity, reduces stress in the workplace and increases team member self-esteem, optimism, and psychological well-being. It is important to note that the effects of a leader’s humor often depend on the context at the team, organization, or cultural level as well as the situation or event.
When leaders display a sense of humor in the workplace, a powerful message is conveyed that deemphasizes hierarchical differences and promotes positive relationships between leaders and members. They also display friendliness and supportiveness to the team. Leaders who exhibit humor encourage and reinforce relationship building among team members.
This research highlights the critical role of humorous leaders in building effective teams by suppressing a workplace climate of loneliness while nurturing a sense of belonging amongst the team. The study also found that a leader’s humor had far greater positive effects in teams with low levels of bureaucracy. In other words, humorous leaders flourish on teams with decentralized decision-making and lowered formalization.
Finally, this research provides scientific support for General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s strong belief that “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”
Yang, F., & Wen, D. (2021). Combating workplace loneliness climate and enhancing team performance: The roles of leader humor and team bureaucratic practices. Journal of Business Research, 136, 305–315.