Office humor

Office humor, also often called workplace humor, refers to the role of humor as used within the workplace. It is a subject that receives significant attention from students of industrial and organizational psychology and of the sociology of work, as well as in popular culture.

Academic considerations

Humor is an inevitable part of the social environment of work, and has been argued to be a potential tool for improving worker satisfaction and organizational results. Studies have suggested that humor can increase worker cohesiveness, creativity, motivation, and resilience in the face of adversity.[1][2][3] On the other hand, workplace humor (especially negative humor) can also be misused to reinforce bigotry, denigrate minorities, create an atmosphere of physical or sexual harassment, or as a management tool to reinforce managerial authority.[1][4]

Inappropriate workplace humor may be deemed as "evidence in sexual harassment, discrimination and hostile work environment cases".[5] It has led to serious consequences in cases such as the Krull case, where the ombudsman of King County, Washington was fired for sending a copy of the 1894 booklet Instruction and Advice for the Young Bride to his soon-to-be-married assistant,[6] or Chevron Corporation having to pay more than $2 million as a settlement with four employees after an interoffice email circulated on the subject of "25 Reasons Why Beer is Better Than Women".[5]

Office humor is the focus of comic strips (Dilbert, Help Desk, User Friendly, Sosiaalisesti rajoittuneet), movies (Office Space, Head Office), TV series (The Peter Principle, The Office, Dilbert), and contemporary art (as in works by Mike Kelley[7][8]).


  1. 1 2 Wijewardena, Nilupama, Hartel, Charmine E. J., and Samaratunge, Ramanie. "A laugh a day is sure to keep the blues away: managers' use of humor and the construction and destruction of employees' resilience." In Wilfred J. Zerbe, Charmine E. J. Härtel and Neal M. Ashkanasy, eds., Emotions and Organizational Dynamism (Emerald Group Publishing, 2010), ISBN 978-0857241771, pp. 259-278. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  2. Stephanie Dolgoff, "Funny business: why workplace teams that share laughs do better and more profitable work. (Yup, office yuks have been studied!)." SUCCESS, May 1, 2012   via HighBeam Research (subscription required) .
  3. Karen E. Klein, "Humor in the Workplace", Bloomberg Businessweek, November 5, 2007.
  4. Ford, T. E., & Fitzgerald, C. M. "Sexist humor in the workplace: A case of subtle harassment." In Jerald Greenberg (Ed.), Insidious Workplace Behavior (Routledge, 2010), ISBN 978-1848728585, pp. 175-206. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  5. 1 2 T. Shawn Taylor, "Political correctness (and lawsuits) make workplace humor serious issue." Chicago Tribune, April 26, 2002   via HighBeam Research (subscription required) .
  6. David Schaefer, "Ombudsman Is Fired -- County Council Says Krull Engaged In `Misconduct'" Seattle Times, October 22, 1996.
  7. Tom McGlynn, "Mike Kelley: Laughing at Deadlines", Artwrit, Winter 2012.
  8. "Mike Kelley, Three Projects: Half a Man, From My Institution to Yours, and Pay for Your Pleasure", Renaissance Society, May 1988.
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