Our research has shown that, although what people find funny may not vary that much whether they are at work or not, people's reasons for making jokes may be different in the workplace: Humour contributes to social cohesion in the workplace, increasing feelings of solidarity or collegiality between co-workers. Workers who contribute to office humour are seen as being 'part of the team', and workplaces where humour is encouraged are often happier:

Planning meeting of a group of colleagues. They are discussing the need to co-ordinate the taking of annual leave to ensure minimum negative impact on the work project:
Hel: people might have to take some leave by that stage as well with this sort of panic before the end of November
Will: oh I'm saving up all mine [laughs]
Sel: well people could panic early [laughs]
Hel: never happens
[general laughter]

Sel: well the hr co-ordinators might crack the whip so that people panic early yes
Toni: I planned to panic early by taking the school holidays off but that didn't work

Workers sometimes use humour as a self-depreciation device, to defuse the pressure when they know they haven't acted as they should have, or have done something stupid. Co-workers tend to be more sympathetic when this approach is taken:

Fay, the section manager, is talking to her administrative assistant Pam who has finally located a file which she has no recollection of creating:
Pam: oh well I must have done it
[both laugh]

Pam: oh isn't that gorgeous
Fay: when did you send it
Pam: [pause] it's a mystery to me [laughs]
Fay: [laughs uproariously]
Pam: it really is

Humour in the workplace can have a more aggressive side. It can be used as a repressive discourse device, i.e. managers often use humour to soften directives or criticisms, making it harder for subordinates to contest them:

Neil, the boss, has come to collect his administrative assistant, Ken, for a meeting for which Ken is late. Ken is working at his computer:
Neil: hate to drag you away when you're obviously having so much fun, but it IS after ten
Ken: [laughs] some fun

Subordinates can also use humour to contest their superiors, challenging their views or refusing to carry out a task, while trying to 'make light' of the erosion of the superior's authority:

Chairperson, Henry, planning with Bob, a more junior staff member, a strategy to trounce opposition at a meeting:
Henry: they're bound to fall over as soon as you present this stuff it can't be refuted
Bob: let's just hope they've been reading the same textbooks as you
[Both laugh]


Please see our list of publications on Humour in the Bibliographies section.