University of Tasmania
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The value of positive humour in the workplace

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posted on 2023-05-27, 12:07 authored by Peebles, DR
The purpose and value of humour as a human characteristic has been debated by philosophers for centuries. However, the use of humour in workplaces remains a contentious issue in management theory to this day. Some academics and philosophers praise humour and encourage its use; others see it as a frivolous distraction from the job-at-hand. This study details the history of the acceptance of humour as a positive human attribute and its possible impact on contemporary workplace management practices. The dichotomy of opinion around the use of humour in the workplace appears to stem from a lack of clarity around the 'style' of humour being considered in a workplace context. A Humour Style Questionnaire developed by Martin, Puhlik-Doris, Larsen, Gray and Weir (2003) provided a tool for researchers to differentiate the humour style preferences being displayed in workplaces. This has enabled more targeted and meaningful research to be undertaken. Researchers can now look specifically at workplace humour which is predominantly affiliative, inclusive and uplifting, to determine if this specific style of humour is of value in terms of enhanced worker attitude and performance leading to improvements in productivity. At the same time, studies are also emerging that show that workplaces are benefiting from the application of positive psychology in enhancing workplace satisfaction, motivation and productivity. Also emerging from the field of positive psychology, Luthans, Youssef and Avolio (2007) developed a concept called psychological capital (or PsyCap) based on the capacities of self-efficacy, resilience, hope and optimism associated with improved organisational productivity. Luthans et al., (2007) suggested that humour, along with a range of other positive capacities, is also a potential indicator of PsyCap. They observed that humour, generally, has a positive social impact for both the deliverer and the recipient of that humour. However they also warned of the potential downside in which use of inappropriate humour (negative humour) has been found to alienate others and can lead to social isolation for the deliverer and apprehension by those observing this behaviour. They conclude that inappropriate humour may lead to reduced group cohesion. Given these observations, the differentiation between positive humour and negative humour was paramount in this research as was an exploration of the relationship between PsyCap and positive humour. Specifically, the study examined both the use and style of humour in workplaces and its relationship with the PsyCap of employees. It also investigated the relationship between positive humour, psychological capital and indicators of workplace productivity from employee self-reports and supervisors' assessments. Finally, it examined whether the team supervisor's own sense of humour and the extent of a 'fun' team climate moderated these relationships of interest. A survey questionnaire was developed from the literature and was completed by 303 individual participants from 50 Australian work teams. These self-report instruments were complemented by a questionnaire completed by each participating work team's supervisor. The supervisors' questionnaire included questions relating to each of their participating subordinate's teamwork and helping behaviours; creativity and innovative thinking; discretionary effort and civic virtue; and productivity and contribution to organisational effectiveness. The data collected were used in a confirmatory factor analysis exploring whether or not humour fits empirically with the PsyCap construct. Results for a model of positive humour and PsyCap achieved satisfactory fit, showing evidence of convergent validity. A number of linear regressions were used to test a series of hypotheses. Results were mixed but overall supportive of the value of using, or at least allowing, positive humour to be a part of workplace cultures. This study appears to be the first to examine the relationship between positive humour and PsyCap. It is also one of the few studies that demonstrate the potentially helpful effects of these constructs on workplace productivity. The implications for workplaces are simple. Appropriate, positive humour used at work is not detrimental to productivity but is shown to contribute to employees' performance and positive attitude towards their workplaces.


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