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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter Mouton November 22, 2016

Funny business: Using humor for good in the workplace

Abbie Caudill and Julie Woodzicka
From the journal HUMOR


Depending on how it is used, humor can have both positive (Lang and Lee 2010. Workplace humor and organizational creativity. The International Journal of Human Resource Management 21(1). 46–60) and negative (Moran and Hughes 2006. Coping with stress: Social work students and humour. Social Work Education 25(5). 501–517) effects on well-being in the workplace. Even when attempts at humor are well intended, they may end up being misinterpreted and doing more harm than good. In the current paper, we suggest that humor can be used in the workplace to cultivate better relationships, create a more positive work environment, and prevent unintended detrimental effects of misplaced or misused humor. We present findings from our study that examines the relationship between humor and well-being, with social support serving as the mediator. The positive relationship between humor and well-being is explained through increased social support in the workplace. These findings suggest that conflicting results in the relationship between humor and well-being could be explained through the theory that only certain types of humor (such as positive humor) increase social support, and therefore well-being. These findings can be used to help employees and managers understand how to better use humor to have positive effects in the workplace.

As employee care and well-being have become important issues for both the public and employers, research has examined the ways in which humor can be used to improve the workplace (Healy and McKay 2000; Lang and Lee 2010). Humor can be used as a social interaction tool, and is associated with many positive outcomes for employees, such as better emotion regulation and increased productivity (Lang and Lee 2010; Lemaire and Wallace 2010). However, other studies suggest that humor can be ineffective or even have negative effects (Moran and Hughes 2006; Kerkkanen et al. 2004; Healy and McKay 2000). While humor appears to play an important role in the workplace, more research is needed to better conceptualize the relationship between humor and various workplace outcomes.

To more clearly understand the role of humor and how it relates to well-being in the workplace, it is essential to clearly differentiate between various types of humor and to conceptualize humor as a communication tool between individuals (Cooper 2008). Using humor as a positive communication tool has been linked with higher levels of social support in the workplace (Moran and Hughes 2006), which has been indirectly linked to employee well-being (Chao 2011). While research has linked humor with social support and with well-being, only one study has provided a direct test of the mediating role of social support in the relationship between humor and well-being (Dyck and Holtzman 2013), and no research to date has tested this mediation model in the workplace. The current study aims to better understand the relationship between humor, social support, and well-being and to specifically examine this relationship in a workplace context.

1 Humor and well-being

Humor has been linked with several important outcomes, both in and out of the workplace.

The humor-health model supports the widely held notion that a sense of humor and the use of humor in daily life can improve health and well-being (Chao 2011; Marziali et al. 2008). This model is especially relevant in the workplace, where working relationships are often vital to the day-to-day functioning of the organization, and employee success can depend on workplace well-being (Perry 2005). Employee care and well-being have become important issues for both the public and employers, and research on humor in the workplace has increased in order to help address whether humor can be used to improve the workplace for employees (Healy and McKay 2000; Lang and Lee 2010). The workplace is also an environment in which certain behaviors, such as humor, can either be encouraged or prevented by the organizational culture, management, discipline, and even training (Perry 2005). Outside of psychology, research on sociolinguistics in the workplace has shown that humor can serve as a powerful tool to connect people at work (e. g., Holmes 2006). The humor-health model suggests that humor could plan an important role in the workplace, allowing the health and well-being of employees to improve, which in turn could improve the vitality and success of the organization overall.

There are several positive workplace outcomes associated with humor. Humor has been found to increase openness and creativity, both of which can increase effectiveness and productivity at work (Lang and Lee 2010). Humor has also been shown to be an effective strategy for managing emotional reactions to stressful and changing work-related situations, an obvious benefit in a dynamic work environment (Lemaire and Wallace 2010). Humor has not only been shown to relieve stress through laughter, but also has been shown to be a useful technique for verbalizing serious concerns in a more relaxed manner (Perry 2005). Research has shown that both of these strategies are useful in stressful work environments, such as nursing (Perry 2005).

Martin and colleagues (2003) advanced the study of humor and well-being by distinguishing the ways in which people spontaneously use humor during social interactions and to cope with stress. He differentiated four “humor styles,” two of which are considered positive or healthy and two which are relatively negative or unhealthy. While sometimes referred to as adaptive humor, positive humor includes both affiliative and self-enhancing humor (Kuiper and McHale 2009). Affiliate humor is used to enhance relationships with others, while self-enhancing humor is a more general humorous outlook on life even when faced with negative circumstances. Both of these humor types generally work to enhance relationships in a most positive way, whether the focus is on the self or on others. These two positive humor types can be directly contrasted with two types of negative humor: aggressive humor and self-defeating humor (Kuiper and McHale 2009). Aggressive humor is intended to specifically put down or hurt others while self-defeating humor works to amuse others at one’s own expense. Both of the negative humor types work through demeaning someone, whether that target is the self or others.

Research suggests that both types of positive humor relate to important outcomes very differently than the two types of negative humor (Martin et al. 2003). For example, Schermer and colleagues (2013) compared the types of humor to the general factor of personality (GFP), which consists of being open-minded, hard-working, sociable, friendly, and emotionally stable. They found that both positive humor types were positively correlated with the GFP while both negative types were negatively correlated with the GFP (Schermer et al. 2013). The positive humor types have also been shown to have a positive relationship with happiness while both of the negative types have a negative relationship with happiness (Ford et al. 2014). Humor used to positively impact social relationships, and both affiliative and self-enhancing humor specifically, has been shown to increase well-being (Kuiper and McHale 2009; Lemaire and Wallace 2010). Sirigatti and colleagues (2016) found that people who used positive humor (affiliative and self-enhancing) were more likely to have higher general well-being than those who used both positive and negative humor styles. Maiolino and Kuiper (2014) compared various humor types to positive psychological outcomes and found that people who used the two positive humor types had higher gratitude and savoring of experiences, which in turn led to higher positive affect and well-being. The two negative humor types were negatively related to gratitude (Maiolino and Kuiper 2014).

A meta-analysis of the use of humor in the workplace showed that employee use of positive humor was linked with higher work performance, higher employee satisfaction, more workgroup cohesion, better employee health, more effective coping, decreased burnout, decreased stress, and lower work withdrawal behaviors across 49 different studies (Mesmer-Magnus et al. 2012). There is a considerable body of research suggesting the use of positive humor is related to greater employee well-being, whether well-being is measured as a general construct or as more specific outcomes such as satisfaction and health.

However, not all studies show that humor is related to an increase in well-being. Several studies have shown that humor decreases well-being, especially when studies employ a general humor measure with no distinction between positive and negative humor (Moran and Hughes 2006). One study found that using humor to relieve stress had no effect on creativity and did not effectively relieve stress when paired with negative feedback (Lang and Lee 2010). Another general measure of humor was shown to have no effect on the stress-mood relationship in a population of nurses who experienced a stressful work environment (Healy and McKay 2000). These mixed results have led some researchers to conclude that the relationship between humor and health has been exaggerated (Kerkkanen et al. 2004).

Distinguishing between positive and negative humor is key to understanding the conflicting results concerning the relationship between general measures of humor and well-being. As noted earlier, positive humor is related to well-being (Kuiper and McHale 2009). However, self-defeating and aggressive humor styles have been negatively correlated with well-being (Martin et al. 2003). Specifically, those with an aggressive humor style ridicule others in an effort to demonstrate their superiority and report less relationship satisfaction (Martin et al. 2003; Kuiper et al. 2010). Similarly, self-defeating humor is negatively related to psychological well-being, social support, and relationship satisfaction (Martin et al. 2003).

2 Social support and humor

Social support refers to the perception that the people around them are “on their side” (Lemaire and Wallace 2010). In other words, the more employees feel that they can trust, communicate with, and count on their coworkers, the higher their perceived level of social support. Social support has been found to be a critical factor in workplace well-being (Chao 2011; Gjesfjeld et al. 2010; Lemaire and Wallace 2010; Perry 2005; Salami 2011). Social support has been linked with positive outcomes in the workplace, such as buffering work demands and providing emotional and informational support to employees (Lemaire and Wallace 2010). Even when work-related stress is high, social support has been shown to increase well-being (Chao 2011). Social support can provide an important cure for workplace burnout (Salami 2011), and has been shown to decrease many types of stressors, from workplace-specific stress to academic and environmental stressors (Baqutayan 2011).

Positive humor, such as affiliative humor, has been shown to increase social support by allowing workers to feel connected to their coworkers (Kuiper and McHale 2009; Moran and Hughes 2006). For example, affiliative humor engages others in common interests, which has a positive effect on the relationship between coworkers and increases feelings of social support (Moran and Hughes 2006). Supervisor support and use of positive humor styles have both been linked to better employee psychological well-being (Kim et al. 2015). When positive humor is used as a coping mechanism in stressful situations, it has also been shown to increase social support between employees (Marziali et al. 2008). Positive humor styles appear to increase social support by strengthening positive connections with others in the workplace.

On the other hand, negative humor styles, have been found to decrease feelings of social support in the workplace (Kuiper and McHale 2009; Lang and Lee 2010). Kuiper and McHale (2009) found that self-defeating humor decreased both self-esteem and social support while also increasing depression. Lang and Lee (2010) focused on aggressive humor, specifically humor used to control others, and found that it had a negative relationship with both organizational creativity and social support.

Humor can influence the way people interact with others and the way others perceive them. The use of the two positive humor types is rated as socially desirable by others while the use of the two negative humor types is rated as socially undesirable (Cann and Matson 2014). Negative humor is used as a coping mechanism that is indicative of maladaptive schemas in social settings and is related to later emotional and functional disturbance (Dozois et al. 2013). In the interpersonal circumplex, both positive humor types and negative humor types are considered socially dominant- however, positive humor types are associated with interpersonal warmth while negative humor types are associated with interpersonal coldness (Markey et al. 2014).

It is clear that the relationship between humor and social support differs based on the type of humor being used. Thus it is critical, from both a practical and empirical perspective, to distinguish between the humor styles when discussing social support. Positive humor that works to build relationships and encourages shared pleasant feelings between coworkers should increase feelings of social support. On the other hand, negative humor that demeans or degrades either the self or others is likely to not have these same positive effects.

While studies connecting social support to both humor and well-being are well documented, research incorporating all three variables is limited. The exception is a study by Dyck and Holtzman (2013) that examined the role of social support in the relationship between humor styles and well-being. Using a sample of undergraduate students, the authors found that the relationship between positive humor styles and well-being was mediated by a greater perceived availability of support. In contrast, the negative relationship between self-defeating humor and well-being was explained by a lower level of perceived social support. This study provides a jumping off point for understanding how humor styles, social support, and well-being interact in the more constrained workplace environment.

3 The current study

The current study aims to examine the relationship between humor styles, social support, and well-being in the workplace. Specifically, positive humor will be defined as affiliative and self-enhancing humor while negative humor will be defined as aggressive and self-defeating humor (Martin et al. 2003). The current research extends the Dyck and Holtzman (2013) study in several important ways. First, the current study is specific to the workplace and uses measures that exclusively examine workplace well-being and workplace social support. Given that the antecedents and outcomes of well-being and social support may vary depending on the context in which they are measured, it is important to examine whether this mediation relationship holds in the workplace specifically (Ryan and Deci 2011). Additionally, the current study uses a sample of working adults across the lifespan. Because of the focus on the workplace, we felt it was important to use full-time workers, not college aged students, since both age and work experience may influence the relationship between humor, social support, and well-being (Twenge 2010). This mediation model will allow for a more complete understanding of previous research and will also help to shed light on why different types of humor have different effects in the workplace. In other words, the current study will build on previous research by examining a more complete model and will also test whether this model applies in the specific context of work.

Full-time workers were recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and were asked to complete the Humor Styles Questionnaire (Martin et al. 2003), along with well-being and social support scales specific to the workplace. We hypothesized that positive humor styles would be related to higher levels of well-being, while negative humor styles would be associated with lower levels of well-being. Further, social support was expected to mediate the relationship between humor styles and well-being, with positive humor styles being related to higher levels of social support and negative humor styles being related to lower levels of social support.

4 Methods

4.1 Participants

Participants were 388 full-time employed adults from the United States between the ages of 18 and 60 (M=28.92, SD=11.875). 242 participants identified as male (62.4 %) while 144 identified as female (37.1 %) and 2 (0.5 %) did not respond. All participants were employees full-time outside of the home. Participants covered a variety of positions and professions, with 271 coded as professionals (such as doctors, engineers, and executives) and 117 coded as non-professionals (such as fast-food workers, administrative assistants, and retail workers).

All participants were recruited using Amazon Mechanical Turk. Mechanical Turk is an online platform that allows participants to complete surveys conveniently and in a short amount of time. Mechanical Turk has been shown to allow for high-quality data to be completed inexpensively and rapidly (Burhmester et al. 2011). Participants were compensated $0.25 for their time. All surveys were completed online and kept anonymous.

4.2 Procedure

Participants completed a basic screening questionnaire to ensure that they met all requirements for participation (over 18, full-time employee outside of the home, residing in the United States) and any participants who did not meet these requirements were discontinued from the study. Eligible participants were then directed to several questionnaires, which were presented in the following order: Humor Styles, Social Support, and Workplace Well-being. Each of these questionnaires is described in detail below. At the end of the study, a short demographic questionnaire that included items assessing occupation, age and gender was completed. Participants were thanked for their time and compensated.

To ensure that participants were reading the items, validity check questions were interspersed throughout the surveys. Data from participants who incorrectly responded to these questions were discarded. Additionally, time and location information was recorded and checked. Participants who did not complete the survey in the United States or who spent fewer than three minutes completing the survey were excluded from the final sample. These strategies helped to ensure that the surveys were completed in a manner than allowed for meaningful results as opposed to haphazard responding.

4.3 Measures

In addition to the demographic information, participants responded to three surveys. Each survey measured a variable from the study- humor styles, social support, and well-being.

4.3.1 Humor styles questionnaire

Participants completed the Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ) (Martin et al. 2003). This questionnaire measures the use of both positive and negative humor in the workplace and social situations. The measure includes statements such as “I laugh and joke a lot with my friends” (positive) and “If someone makes a mistake, I will often tease them about it” (negative). A full list of questions is listed in Appendix A. Participants responded to each statement using a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 7 (totally agree). The HSQ includes 32 total statements, with 16 relating to positive humor (alpha=0.93) and 16 relating to negative humor (alpha=0.71).

It should be noted that the HSQ includes four humor types (affiliative, self-enhancing, aggressive, and self-defeating humor), which have been combined into positive (affiliative and self-enhancing) and negative (aggressive and self-defeating). While the four humor types have distinct relationships with some variables, research has shown that the two positive types and the two negative types relate to social support and well-being in similar ways (Vernon et al. 2008; Yip and Martin 2006). Theoretically, both types of humor that relate to more positive personal and social outcomes (such as self-esteem, positive moods and emotions, and relationship satisfaction) would also be expected to relate in similar ways to social support and well-being (Martin et al. 2003). On the other hand, both of the negative humor types are related to negative personal and social outcomes (low self-esteem, negative emotions, low psychological well-being, and low relationship satisfaction) and therefore would also be expected to relate to social support and well-being similarly (Martin et al. 2003). So, while the two humor types within each category may focus on different aspects (such as self versus other), they still are expected to relate to the outcomes studied here in similar ways and thus are grouped together as positive and negative.

4.3.2 Social support questionnaires

Next participants completed a social support survey including two measures relating to the workplace, with questions about both perceived and desired social support. The first survey was based on the Caplan et al. (1975) social support survey (Bowling et al. 2004). Participants responded to three items such as “How much do you take part with others in making decisions that affect you?” (see Appendix B for a full list of questions). They responded on a 5-point Likert scale from 1 (very little) to 5 (a great deal). Additionally, participants completed a set of 11 items from Gangemi et al.’s (2010) measure. Questions on this scale included “How much do others at work accept me?” and “How much are others at work loyal to me?” (see Appendix B for a complete list of questions). Responses were scored from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much). The first scale asks participants to answer questions related to their own perspective (such as how the participant feels) while the second scale asks about the frequency of specific events (such as how often coworkers help the participant). Both scales were combined to provide a complete picture of the experience of social support in the workplace (alpha=0.87).

4.3.3 Workplace well-being questionnaire

Finally, participants completed the Workplace Well-being Questionnaire retrieved from The Black Dog Institute (The Black Dog Institute 2012; Parker and Crawford 2009). This 31-item scale measures several aspects of workplace stress, such as work satisfaction and intrusion of work into private life. “Is your work fulfilling?” is a sample question (see Appendix C for a complete list of items). Participants responded to items on a 4-point Likert scale from 0 (not at all) to 4 (extremely). All scored were averaged to create a general workplace well-being score (alpha=0.92).

5 Results

Items were averaged to create an overall positive humor, negative humor, social support, and workplace well-being score for each participant. These averages were used for all analyses. Next, the demographic variables were tested using analysis of variance (ANOVA). There were no significant differences on any of the outcome variables for age or gender (p’s > 0.05)). Descriptive statistics were computed for all of the variables (Table 1).

Table 1:

Humor, social support, and well-being descriptive statistics.

Negative humor3881.367.004.190.88
Positive humor3882.457.005.080.75
Social support3881.935.003.610.58
Workplace well-being3881.474.002.840.46

First, the relationship between the humor styles and workplace well-being was tested using correlations. A complete correlation matrix is provided in Table 2. As expected, positive humor was significantly and positively related to workplace well-being, r(386)=0.325, p < 0.001. However, the relationship between the use of negative humor styles and workplace well-being was not significant, r(386)=−0.038, p=0.461. Because negative humor had no significant relationship with workplace well-being, mediation analyses were not run for negative humor. Since positive humor was shown to have a relationship with well-being, mediation analyses were used to test whether social support mediated this relationship.

Mediation analyses were computed based on the steps outlined by Baron and Kenny (1986) and Preacher and Hayes (2004). For the first step, positive humor was regressed onto workplace well-being. Results showed a significant relationship between positive humor and well-being, t(387)=3.828, p < 0.001. Next, positive humor was regressed on the mediator, social support. Again, results showed a significant positive relationship between positive humor and social support, t(387)=6.566, p < 0.001. Social support was then regressed on workplace well-being and this relationship was also significant and positive, t(386)=11.086, p < 0.001. Finally, the significance of the indirect effect was tested using bootstrapping procedures. Unstandardized indirect effects were computed for each of 1,000 bootstrap samples and the 95 % confidence interval was computed by determining the indirect effects at the 2.5th and 97.5th percentiles. The bootstrapped unstandardized indirect effect was .095 and the 95 % confidence interval ranged from 0.0599 to 0.1319. Therefore, the indirect effect was significant and the mediation relationship was supported.

Several interesting trends also emerged. As shown in Table 2, negative humor and positive humor were significantly correlated but had different relationships with workplace well-being. Additionally, while negative humor did not correlate with workplace well-being (r(386)=−0.038, p=0.461), it did significantly correlate with social support (r(386)=0.181, p<0.001). To further explore this relationship, negative humor was divided into the two humor types (aggressive and self-defeating) and these two humor types were correlated with the other outcome variables separately. Neither aggressive humor nor self-defeating humor correlated significantly with workplace well-being, r(386)=−0.097, p=0.056 and r(386)=0.009, p=0.862, respectively. Further, aggressive humor was not significantly associated with social support, r(386)=−0.098, p=0.055. However, self-defeating humor was significantly correlated with social support, r(386)=0.205, p<0.001. In comparison, when positive humor was broken down into its two separate components (affiliative humor and self-enhancing humor), the correlations did not change- both types of positive humor were positively related to social support (affiliative: r(386)=0.288, p<0.001; self-enhancing: r(386)=0.260, p<0.001) and workplace well-being (affiliative: r(386)=0.280, p<0.001; self-enhancing: r(386)=0.281, p<0.001).

Table 2:

Correlations for humor, social support, and workplace well-being.

1. Positive humor
2. Negative humor0.235***
3. Social support0.317***0.181***
4. Well-being0.325***−0.0380.544***

  1. Note: *p<0.05, **p<0.01, ***p<0.001.

6 Discussion

The current study had several goals. The first was to examine the mixed results in research on the relationship between humor and workplace well-being by dividing humor into positive and negative categories. The second goal was to further explain this relationship by using social support as a mediator. Importantly, this study is the first to incorporate these ideas into a study using full-time workers and outcome measures designed specifically for the workplace. Our results indicate that the type of humor matters when it comes to social support and workplace well-being. When people use positive humor as a communication tool in the workplace, they also report having higher levels of social support. This social support then in turn is related to higher levels of workplace well-being, explaining the relationship between the use of positive humor and measures of workplace well-being. These results suggest that positive humor is a potentially powerful workplace tool for communication that is related to positive workplace outcomes.

While humor, social support, and well-being have frequently been examined separately, these results suggest that there is a more complex relationship where social support mediates the effect of humor on workplace well-being. In other words, one reason that humor is effective (or ineffective) at increasing well-being is directly related to its impact on social support. Those who are able to use positive humor in the workplace are more likely to report feeling supported at work, which in turn is an important factor for well-being. This suggests that positive humor could serve as a powerful method of communication because of its bearing on relationships in the workplace, and emphasizes the importance of supportive relationships for individual well-being.

There were several additional trends that emerged suggesting that while the relationship between positive humor, social support, and workplace well-being is clear, the relationship with negative humor is more complicated. Negative humor was not associated with higher levels of workplace well-being overall and trended toward a negative relationship. However, negative humor was related to higher levels of social support. There are several potential explanations for this finding. First, negative humor and positive humor were related to one another, so it is possible that benefits from positive humor carry over for people who also use negative humor. It is also possible that negative humor has less severe social consequences when paired with positive humor (Markey et al. 2014; Martin et al. 2003). Perhaps employees who use both negative and positive humor styles simultaneously are able to effectively mix the two in a way that does not damage social relationships but also does not provide the same benefits for well-being as positive humor alone.

Additionally, while both subtypes of positive humor had the same relationship with the outcome variables, aggressive and self-defeating humor had different relationships. Both were unrelated to workplace well-being. However, self-defeating humor had a significant positive relationship with social support. It is possible that for negative humor in particular, humor that is focused on others has particular severe consequences while humor that is focused on the self has different, and sometimes even positive, outcomes. Self-defeating humor correlates positively with outcomes such as loneliness and shyness and negatively with self-esteem (Stieger et al. 2011). Individuals may have less of a negative reaction to someone they perceive as shy or low on self-esteem than they do toward people they perceive as aggressive. Additionally, self-defeating and aggressive humor have both been linked to lower ability to accurately perceive emotions, so it is possible that those who use these humor types frequently are not as able to accurately assess the levels of social support they receive from others in the workplace (Yip and Martin 2006).

Another important consideration is that while self-defeating humor is related to social support, that higher level of social support is still not translating to higher levels of well-being in the workplace. For example, if an employee makes fun of himself or herself for being a bad employee in front of other coworkers, it is possible that those coworkers will have a positive or even sympathetic response to that humor and social support will increase. However, that employee will still be engaging in an activity that is damaging to self-esteem and other outcomes, so even with higher levels of social support, well-being may not increase. On the other hand, it is possible that these higher levels of social support are perceived but not realistic- the measures included here were self-report, so perhaps employees who use self-defeating humor feel as though they are receiving social support, but in reality social support is not particularly strong.

These results are important for the study of humor and the workplace for several reasons. First, the results suggest that the type of humor being used in the workplace has implications for employee well-being and should be considered when dealing with how to manage humor, whether or not to engage in humor, and ways in which humor can have a positive impact on the environment. For example, positive humor might be encouraged because of its relationship with positive outcomes in the workplace. Negative humor, on the other hand, might be discouraged or used more carefully since its relationship with positive outcomes is less clear. Managers may consider the type of humor being used when deciding whether it is appropriate for the workplace- negative, disparaging humor may be considered inappropriate while more positive, encouraging humor may be considered appropriate and even valuable in the workplace.

Practically, well-being in the workplace should be a priority for leaders and managers in every organization. Employees who are healthy and satisfied are not only more engaged workers, but also contribute to a better work environment for those around them (Booth-Butterfield et al. 2007). While social support can be a helpful tool for increasing and maintaining well-being, it is a concept that could be difficult for employees to grasp. Humor could serve as an accessible tool that employees could be trained to use properly. For example, humor training could be integrated into diversity training, with examples and instructions on negative humor that is inappropriate in the workplace (such as disparaging humor, sexist humor, and racist humor) and more positive humor types that could enhance their relationships (such as jokes about shared interests). Encouraging constructive forms of humor can help to build relationships and camaraderie in the workplace, while educating employees on the negative effects of destructive humor can prevent situations that may degrade those relationships. Studies have shown that some employees hesitate to use humor, especially in more serious occupations such as medical care, oncology, or mental health fields (Kovacs et al. 2009). However, if employees have information about using humor properly and potential positive effects of humor, it can be used to reduce organizational challenges to well-being.

Future research could implement experimental methodology to support these correlational results and more closely examine the role of negative humor in the workplace. Are there certain situations where negative humor has positive effects and others where it does not? Are there differences in outcomes for people who use both types of humor effectively compared to those who just use negative humor? Perhaps the perspectives of others in the workplace would differ compared to the perspective of the employee who is using negative humor as a communication tool. It is possible that people who use humor have a very different interpretation of how humor impacts those around them compared to their coworkers who are interacting with them. While the current study sheds light on several important relationships, there are still many unanswered questions about how different types of humor relate to workplace outcomes.

In conclusion, positive humor does in fact relate to higher levels of well-being in the workplace, and this relationship is mediated through higher levels of social support. Failing to differentiate between positive humor and negative humor, and possibly even different types of negative humor, could lead to mixed or conflicting results. Positive humor can serve as a powerful tool in the workplace for leaders and employees who are working to improve and maintain high levels of social support and workplace well-being.


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Appendix A. Humor styles questionnaire (HSQ) items



  1. I usually don’t laugh or joke around much with other people.*

  2. I don’t have to work very hard at making other people laugh- I seem to be a naturally humorous person.

  3. I rarely make other people laugh by telling funny stories about myself.*

  4. I laugh and joke a lot with my closest friends.

  5. I usually don’t like to tell jokes or amuse people.*

  6. I enjoy making people laugh.

  7. I don’t often joke around with my friends.*

  8. I usually can’t think of witty things to say when I’m with other people.*

  1. If I am feeling depressed, I can usually cheer myself up with humor.

  2. Even when I’m by myself, I’m often amused by the absurdities of life.

  3. If I am feeling upset or unhappy I usually try to think of something funny about the situation to make myself feel better.

  4. My humorous outlook on life keeps me from getting overly upset or depressed about things.

  5. If I’m by myself and I’m feeling unhappy, I make an effort to think of something funny to cheer myself up.

  6. If I am feeling sad or upset, I usually lose my sense of humor.*

  7. It is my experience that thinking about some amusing aspect of a situation is often a very effective way of coping with problems.

  8. I don’t need to be with other people to feel amused- I can usually find things to laugh about even when I’m by myself.



  1. If someone makes a mistake, I will often tease them about it.

  2. People are never offended or hurt by my sense of humor.*

  3. When telling jokes or saying funny things, I am usually not very concerned about how other people are taking it.

  4. I do not like it when people use humor as a way of criticizing or putting someone down.*

  5. Sometimes I think of something that is so funny that I can’t stop myself from saying it, even if it is not appropriate for the situation.

  6. I never participate in laughing at others even if all my friends are doing it.*

  7. If I don’t like someone, I often use humor or teasing them to put them down.

  8. Even if something is really funny to me, I will not laugh to joke about it if someone will be offended.*


  1. I let people laugh at me or make fun of me at my expense more than I should.

  2. I will often get carried away in putting myself down if it makes my family or friends laugh.

  3. I often try to make people like or accept me more by saying something funny about my own weaknesses, blunders, or faults.

  4. I don’t often say funny things to put myself down.*

  5. I often go overboard in putting myself down when I am making jokes or trying to be funny.

  6. When I am with friends or family, I often seem to be the one that other people make fun of or joke about.

  7. If I am having problems or feeling unhappy, I often cover it up by joking around, so that even my closest friends don’t know how I really feel.

  8. Letting others laugh at me is my way of keeping my family and friends in good spirits.

Appendix B. Social support items

Caplan et al. (1975) Items

  1. How much do you take part with others in making decisions that affect you?

  2. How much do you participate with others in helping set the way things are done on your job?

  3. How much do you decide with others what part of a task you will do?

Gangemi et al. (2010) Items

  1. How much do others at work accept me?

  2. How much do others at work understand me?

  3. How open are others at work with me?

  4. How much do others at work take care of me?

  5. How much do others at work cater to my wishes?

  6. How much do others at work prepare pleasant surprises for me?

  7. How much do others at work respect me?

  8. How much are others at work loyal to me?

  9. How much do others at work look after me?

  10. How much do others at work share my happy moments?

  11. How much do others at work show me affection?

Appendix C. Workplace well-being items

  1. Is your work fulfilling?

  2. In general terms, do you trust the senior people in your organization?

  3. Do your daily work activities give you a sense of direction and meaning?

  4. At a difficult time, would your boss be willing to lend an ear?

  5. Does your work eat into your private life?

  6. Does your work bring a sense of satisfaction?

  7. Do you believe in the principles by which your employer operates?

  8. Is your boss caring?

  9. Do you feel stressed in organizing your work time to meet demands?

  10. Does your work increase your sense of self-worth?

  11. Do you feel content with the way your employer treats its employees?

  12. Does your job allow you to re-craft your job to suit your needs?

  13. Do you feel that your boss is empathetic and understanding about your work concerns?

  14. Do you feel excessively pressured at work to meet targets?

  15. Does your work make you feel that, as a person, you are flourishing?

  16. Do you feel that your employer respects staff?

  17. Does your boss treat you as you would like to be treated?

  18. After work, do you find it hard to wind down?

  19. Do you feel capable and effective in your work on a day-to-day basis?

  20. How satisfied are you with your work’s value system?

  21. Does your boss shoulder some of your worries about work?

  22. Do you find yourself thinking negatively about work outside of work hours?

  23. Does your work offer challenges to advance your skills?

  24. Compared with your organization’s ideal values, to what degree are actual work values positive?

  25. Do you feel your transactions with your boss are, in general, positive?

  26. Do you feel that you can separate yourself easily from your work when you leave for the day?

  27. Do you feel you have some level of independence at work?

  28. Do people at your work believe in the worth of the organization?

  29. Do you believe that your employer cares about their staff’s wellbeing?

  30. Does your work impact negatively on your self-esteem?

Do you feel personally

Published Online: 2016-11-22
Published in Print: 2017-2-1

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