Keeping Humor in the Workplace Energizing AND Professional

Why humor is needed in the workplace and What to do when humor in the workplace is inappropriate.

Sometimes work can be grim and stressful. There are times when you need to 'lighten up' the environment with some humor in the workplace. A good dose of fun can be just the right thing for several reasons.

  • 1
    Putting some humor into a stressful situation can put a new perspective on it. And that can help you handle it and get through it
  • 2
    A little fun can make you more efficient, especially when you breaking tension
  • 3
    Few people (particularly high-quality people like you) stay around in workplaces that are dreary and miserable
  • 4
    When you are happy you are more productive and effective

One of the best work environments I ever had the delight to be a part of, was filled with a lot of laughter.  It also received national and international recognition as a high-performance workplace.

Because people mostly felt good about themselves, their colleagues, and the environment in which they were working the performance was high AND the spirit there was infectious. Very few visitors could walk into that workplace and not 'get', that the people there were having fun and feeling good.

You can't expect peak performance from people who are glum and overwhelmed

Seriously, do you think you can expect peak performance from people who are dragging themselves into work feeling glum and overwhelmed? Creativity is a right-brain activity, and laughter triggers your right brain. What workplace doesn't need its team members to be creative and intuitive?

Certainly you want to make sure that any humor in the workplace is appropriate ... and not overly contrived or forced on people - if someone doesn't want to participate in "silly hat day" - then that's their choice and they may quietly on the inside be enjoying watching others have fun. You don't want to force' people to comply .... "YOU WILL HAVE FUN". We've all seen workplaces that try to force it, and that is SO not fun!

Take the workplace humor quiz to discover if you need to inject some humor into your workplace.

What is Appropriate Workplace Humor?

Let's say that your department has some pretty heavy deadlines looming. As a high-performance leader, you want to keep your people engaged and inspired. So, you decide to bring in a bell with panic written on it and say something like this to your team:

"Okay we are going to have to pull together, and focus on meeting our deadlines. But we also want to remember that part of our mantra in this team is 'to have fun as we deliver exceptional service.' So, hit the panic button, folks, whenever you are feeling overwhelmed or need to remember to lighten up."


Doing something like this will relieve some of the tension people might be feeling. Furthermore, it will provide some perspective and help to make them feel a little better about the situation.

Your people will understand that you, their leader, want to achieve your goals AND you are keeping a clear head about making sure the workplace is engaging.

Injecting some humor in the workplace is likely to keep people focused AND help them to get the job done more efficiently.

Take a look at how Air New Zealand has managed to take, what could be a life-and-death subject, and something that most people snooze through .... the pre-flight safety spiel ... and turn it into something humorous. Additionally, people watch and talk about this video - which is great for Air NZ! It gets the job done, and it engages people.

And, bear with me as I share another Air New Zealand clip. This time it's a proud Aunty moment! My niece was a part of the team that created this award winning ad for Air New Zealand. Again, another fabulous example of appropriate humor in the workplace.

Both of these are examples of appropriate humor, but what do you do when workplace humor is not appropriate? 

What is Inappropriate Humor in the Workplace

Inappropriate workplace humor is anything that causes others to feel uncomfortable. Teasing someone about their performance and laughing about it amongst coworkers is inappropriate and unprofessional. Some people seem to think this type of humor will get the person to 'pick up their game.' It doesn't. If you've ever been guilty of trying this tactic, you need to practice the skills found in "Successful Feedback."

It's also inappropriate workplace humor, for example, if there's any prejudice involved. Such as racial humor, making fun of someone's disability, physical appearance, or gender biased humor. And, of course, any sexually based humor is entirely inappropriate. They are likely to steer you to the lawyer's office on discrimination charges.

Guidelines for Handling Inappropriate Workplace Humor

  • Don't encourage it or take part in it. Either as a leader or within your peer group
  • Don't stay silent about it. Firmly, but calmly, state that you think this was inappropriate
  • If you are unable to handle it yourself, then report the incident to your manager or human resources immediately. Chances are, there's a policy against this type of humor

Inappropriate humor doesn't belong in the workplace. Make sure that whatever humor activities you decide upon never excludes anyone. The last thing you want is for people to become distracted because they are feeling bad.

Keep the vibe in the workplace light by using appropriate humor. Something that surprises and leaves people feeling good. When you get it right, humor in the workplace is a tool that engages and energizes your people.

I love this list of 101 things to do to create humor in the workplace. Check it out for some ideas on what you could do. (Fair word of warning. I wouldn't implement all their ideas. But you're a leader, so you'll figure out what works for your team's culture.)

Get Inspiration from these Books:

"Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results" by Stephen C Lundin

"Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow" by Chip Conley 

"Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose" by Tony Hsieh

are all great books that show wonderful examples of engaging people through fun. Whilst Fish is a fictional metaphor it still has a great story, Peak and Delivering Happiness are both non-fictional, auto-biographical type books of how two leaders (Chip Conley and Tony Hsieh respectively) have inspired their people, through building a culture that performs - and each book has awesome leadership advice.

Related Articles

Have Your Say