Recently, Harvard Business Review author Kai Chi Yam published an article entitled, “When Joking With Your Employees Leads to Bad Behavior.” The author’s goal was to understand the impact that a leader’s jokes can have on the behaviors and actions of his/her employees.
After conducting lengthy research with workers in the United States and China, the author concluded that a leader’s use of humor can be a “mixed blessing.” Although humor in the workplace is generally assumed to be a good thing — several studies have shown that humor in the workplace increases creativity and collaboration, makes workers more productive, and boosts status in the workplace — the author found that humor can produce a broad range of effects on organizational behavior.
On the positive side, humor can improve how team members view their social relationships with their team members. This leads to better work engagement, among other things. On the other hand, some forms of humor from a leaders — in particular aggressive humor — can serve as a powerful signal to employees that it’s okay to break the rules and engage in improper conduct. The author concluded that humor still is and can be a very positive tool to employ in the workplace. However, leaders need to be mindful of their status as role models because their behavior serves as a “social cue” for their employes.
You can read Kai Chi Yam’s article in the Harvard Business Review here.