How to use humour at work

Used appropriately, humour plays a significant role in the workplace, research suggests.

More than three-fourths of the more than 2,200 CFOs staffing firm Accountemps polled in the US said an employee’s sense of humour was very important (22%) or somewhat important (56%) for fitting into the company’s corporate culture.

The results from a similar poll five years ago were about the same, said Mike Steinitz, Accountemps executive director. “Humour can be an important tool to create a corporate culture.”

Sharing funny stories and good-natured practical jokes can help bring a team of diverse members together and increase creativity and productivity. But humour is a double-edged sword. Ethnic- and gender-based jokes and ridicule tend to have the opposite effect, creating dysfunction and ill will.

Humour usually works well when it is authentic and tailored to a particular audience or when it stays within frameworks that are widely understood, Steinitz said. When in doubt, he suggested erring on the side of caution.

For further help, Accountemps offers five suggestions for using humour in the workplace:

Show your personality. Humour can help build rapport with colleagues and alleviate nervous jitters during a job interview.

Consider the circumstances. A chuckle or two can help ease a stressful situation, but cracking one-liners during a serious meeting is an unwelcome distraction.

Use the right medium. Using humour in an email or instant message can fall flat or be misinterpreted, because the recipient cannot see your facial expressions or hear the tone of your voice.

Laugh with them – not at them. Never use humour at the expense of others, and be mindful that sarcastic or demeaning comments can be off-putting or offensive.

Keep it G-rated. Steer clear of inappropriate or negative remarks that could make someone feel uncomfortable. If you’re unsure of how your joke may be received, keep it to yourself.

Sabine Vollmer ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.