Humor at Work: How to Get a Serious Boost

by Cathy Jimenez

You know what helps with a serious situation? Laughter!

Life is difficultthat’s a fact. Recently, we’ve also been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has thrown a major wrench into life as we know it. It’s a serious situation for all of us, at work and in our daily lives. But do you know what can help make serious situations easier? Humor and laughter! It’s worth taking humor seriously at workeven (or especially) in hard times.

Here are three scientifically-backed reasons why a little humor can go a long way towards greater happiness at workthereby increasing engagement and productivity.

Bust That Stress!

The average American working adult spends about one-third of their life at work (around 90,000 hours lifetime total). Throughout our working lives, we all experience stress. Let me stress (pun intended) that not all of it is bad. Stress = energy. Whether it becomes positive or negative energy depends partly on our response to it. Of course, in a worst case scenario, chronic work-related stress can lead to physical illness, as well as mental health challenges.

However, there are many strategies to help stave off and soothe stress. You can increase physical activity, befriend your stress, improve your sleep hygiene, connect with others for support, and/or advocate for systems-level changes within your organization. Want a quick and easy way to bust some stress? Use humor and laughter! Laughter (in response to positive humor) can reduce your blood pressure and calm down your stress hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine. Laugh a little, live a lot longer!

Signal Competence and Confidence

“A project manager and a developer walked into a bar…”

Do you roll your eyes and groan when a colleague tries to insert a joke into a conversation, or are you the type who cheers them on? In my case, as a leader, I’m typically the instigator of silliness on the team! My jokes are not always spot-on, but I love trying to lighten the mood at work, especially when everyone’s stressed out. Fortunately, according to this article in the Harvard Business Review, telling less-than-hilarious jokes, “as long as they are appropriatewon’t harm your social standing or affect how competent people think you are. They may even increase how confident you seem.”

Allow me to emphasize that a less-than-hilarious joke is different from an inappropriate joke, though. While an unfunny joke may fail to elicit a lot of laughs, an inappropriate joke can lead the teller to be perceived as less competent and lower status within their organization (or to outright lose their job). So always keep your jokes clean and appropriate, folks!

Improve Work Cohesiveness

Cohesiveness? Can’t you just say teamwork?

Work cohesiveness and teamwork are similar, in the sense that both involve teams working to achieve a common goal. The main difference between them is that when teams are working cohesively, everyone does all they can to contribute to the overall success of the group, focusing on team success rather than individual recognition.

Humor improves work cohesiveness as it helps boost morale and build trust in organizations. Do you remember the first time you joined a team, and how timid and uneasy you felt at first? It was the same experience for me when I joined Happy Brain Science back in 2017. Then the silliness, mutual laughter, common interests, and Scott’s “dad jokes” made it possible to let our guards down and be more authentic with one another! And when times are tough, that team cohesiveness will help you find ways to resolve issues together with each other instead of against each other.


These are only a few of the numerous benefits of humor and laughter in the workplace. Positive humor can help refresh our brains to boost creativity, thereby improving our personal and team well-being. In difficult times, it can even increase the effectiveness of our coping efforts, while decreasing burnout and withdrawal. What other advantages do you see?

We hope you, your coworkers, and your family are keeping safe while this pandemic rages on. What suggestions do you have to inject a little more laughter and fun at work? Any jokes you’d like to share that are effective as ice breakers? Any games we can play to keep engagement high while working remotely? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments, or email us to share your thoughts at happysupport(at)!

Cathy Jimenez

With almost 20 years of experience in software development, project/people/customer support management, Cathy Jimenez has found joy in applying her strengths for Happy Brain Science. She loves to help out people and teams by understanding their needs and working with them to get to a unique solution that is a win for everyone concerned. An experienced presenter and facilitator, Cathy presents Happy Brain Science sessions in Asia and around the world.

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