Before we start singing the praises of humor in the workplace, a proviso – not all forms of humor are good for the working environment. Psychologist Jennifer Hofmann warns: “Colleagues are often criticized or humiliated under the guise of humor.” When humor is used to belittle and bully a colleague, it is of course bad for the working atmosphere.
But otherwise psychologists are convinced that humor helps to create a good working environment and improves relationships between colleagues. “People who get on well work better together. Humor creates a good underlying atmosphere,” says humor researcher Paul McGhee, “and people enjoy coming to work. That’s a big benefit when you think about how many people don’t like their jobs.” The playfulness that goes along with humor also makes people more creative. “Workers are more and more required to solve complex problems,” says McGhee. “Those who work in a stimulating, humorous environment are better able to do that.” The classic example is Google, which provides slides and table football for its employees in order to create a relaxed playful environment.
Humor training of the type offered by Ruch and his team can be a relatively simple and efficient way to improve the working environment by resetting the mood barometer from serious to cheerful. But here too, it must be remembered: There’s a time and a place for everything. “There may be situations where humor is not appropriate,” says psychologist Sonja Heintz. “If everyone is talking about something serious, a joke can be annoying, or if someone is suffering from depression, they may not be able to laugh even if they’d like to.” For that reason, employees should not be forced to take part in humor training workshops – “that would be counterproductive,” says Heintz.