The right and wrong ways to approach workplace humor

Follow this guidance to engage employees with lighthearted content—instead of enraging them with inappropriate jokes.

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A bedrock rule of humor is, “Never explain a joke.”

As E.B. White wrote: “Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better, but the frog dies in the process.”

The joy of humor lies in the immediate, shared recognition that some stuffy norm has been violated or some unspoken truth has been exposed. It’s pure magic when done right, but threading the needle of “appropriate humor” is easier said than done in today’s touchy times—especially in the workplace.

Which kinds of humor still work—and why? What are the social and psychological effects of humor at work? The answers tell us much about when, where and how to use humor.

Primary considerations for using humor in the workplace

Understanding the use and misuse of humor is particularly important for managers, executives and anyone else responsible for establishing and maintaining a healthy workplace culture. Although humor can bring employees together and create a more relaxed work environment, it can also be divisive and counterproductive when used haphazardly.

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