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Will using humour at work make you a better boss?



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Just like sarcasm, tickling your employees’ funny bone might work to help boost productivity in your office.

But that is, only if you’ve maintained good relations with them in the first place.

A recent study from the University of Missouri has found that the relationship between leader-humour and job satisfaction is dependent on the quality of the relationship between leaders and their subordinates – and not the positive or negative tone of the leader’s humour.

“Generally, people think that positive humour, which is inclusive, affiliative and tasteful, is good in leadership, and negative humour, which is aggressive and offensive, is bad,” said Christopher Robert, associate professor in the Department of Management in the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business.

“In our study, we found the effects of humour depend on the relationship between leaders and subordinates. Specifically, both positive and negative humour use by leaders is positively related to their subordinates’ job satisfaction when the relationship between the leader and subordinates is good.

Robert added that however, when the leader-subordinate relationship is bad, both negative and positive types of humor are associated with lower job satisfaction.

To test their theory, Robert and his team developed two sets of matched questionnaires, one for leaders and one for their subordinates. Researchers analysed responses from about 70 leaders and their 241 subordinates in 54 organisations.

ALSO READ: Why bosses should make fun of themselves

“The findings suggest that if leaders wish to integrate humour into their interactions with subordinates, they should first assess whether or not their subordinates are likely to interpret their humorous overtures positively,” Robert said.

“If a good relationship between the leader and the subordinate exists, then humor—be it positive or negative in tone—will only help to maintain the good relationship.”

Robert also suggested that these results have implications for leaders’ strategic use of humour.

“Instead of using humor to build relationships, leaders should work to build strong relationships through other means such as through clear communication, fair treatment, and providing clear and useful feedback. Humor then can be used to maintain those strong relationships.”

Robert cautioned that a high-quality leader-subordinate relationship doesn’t necessarily give leaders free reign to use any type of humour in any context.

He added that jokes that leverage racial or sexual stereotypes may not be accepted positively by subordinates in all cases, and large amounts of negative or aggressive humor might be unacceptable.

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