Having a laugh at work? It could be safer to play it straight

By Jim Bright

Thumbing through a recent copy of the Gynecologic Oncology Reports journal, my eye was caught by the statement that gynaecologic oncologists are susceptible to B.O. You’d think that personal hygiene was a priority for medical specialists, but no, this was not body odour, but rather burn out, the unsuccessful management of occupational stress.

The subject of the paper by University of Wisconsin academics was an investigation of how different forms of humour may assist in managing stress and preventing burnout. Apparently not all humour is helpful – indeed, some have claimed that humour can be classified as adaptive (helpful) or maladaptive (unhelpful).

Humour is critically dependent upon context most, if not all, of the time.
Humour is critically dependent upon context most, if not all, of the time.Credit: Databank

The claim is that adaptive humour is either self-enhancing, or enhancing of relations with others (affiliative). By contrast maladaptive humour can be aggressive, where humour enhances the self at the expense of others, or self-defeating, where humour enhances relationships at the expense of self.

These dimensions of humour were developed by Canadian academics. While sarcasm appears to be a no-no, gentle teasing gets the nod as being adaptive. If you say funny things, tell jokes, or engage in witty banter, the claim is you are likely to score highly on cheerfulness which is fair enough, but also surprisingly on intimacy, and on relationship satisfaction.

As I see it, the problem is, that some of the least funny people have absolutely no insight into their blackboard-scraping unfunniness; the sort of person who answers all your questions about the chicken’s motivations to cross the road.

If the purpose of a humorous moment is to entertain anyone else, then inescapably, something is only humorous if others find it funny. But even that is not the final arbiter. There are still some people who laugh with rather than at Donald Trump, for instance.

What was once seen as hilarious can make for uncomfortable responses today.

Humour is critically dependent upon context most, if not all, of the time. For instance, the old joke “I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my father, and unlike his terrified passengers” is likely to be far less funny in the immediate aftermath of fatal accident caused by a sleeping driver.

It also depends on our ability to remove ourselves from our immediate concerns and preoccupation, and to see the bigger picture, that includes “the funny side”. It does not take much to see the absurdity of much that passes for management in organisations, or politics in communities.

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Contexts change, and with it so do societal values and norms. What was once seen as hilarious can make for uncomfortable responses today. Or not.

Personal taste plays a critical role in how people differ in their reactions to humour. Some people love sexual jokes, but find lavatorial humour boyish and crude. I know! How can a fart in a lift not be funny? Some people, eh?

Which brings me back to gynaecologists, surely a fertile field for sexual innuendo. But rather, my concern is that, if somebody really thinks that they can reduce burnout by employing particular forms of humour, we are only one step away from human resource-led compulsory humour training. Human Resources, the inadvertently funniest department in any organisation.

Dr Jim Bright FAPS owns Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy, and is director of evidence & impact at BECOME Education an Ed Tech start-up become.education. Email to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright

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Source: Thanks smh.com