What Does Research Say About Workplace Humor?

Topic(s): Off The Wall
Publication: Journal of Managerial Psychology (2012)
Article: A Meta-Analysis of Positive Humor in the Workplace
Authors: Mesmer-Magnus, J., Glew, D. J., Viswesvaran, C.
Reviewed by: Thaddeus Rada

The impact of humor in the workplace has not been heavily researched. However, despite this lack of research focus, enough studies have been conducted to warrant a meta-analysis (statistical combination of many previous studies) to assess the “true” relationship of positive humor (i.e. not belittling or bullying, etc.) to a variety of variables related to organizational life; a new meta-analysis conducted by Jessica Mesmer-Magnus and colleagues does just this.


Speaking about the psychological view of humor more generally, the authors note that research in this area has been plagued by a number of issues. They note that one problem with previous humor research has been a plethora of definitions of what humor actually is. They also note that several different types of humor may serve different roles and lead to different outcomes, further complicating this area of research.


Mesmer-Magnus and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis to examine the association between employee positive humor and employee health outcomes (e.g. stress), the association between leader positive humor and leader effectiveness (e.g. follower approval), and the association that both employee positive and leader positive humor have with work-related outcomes (e.g. performance). In general, the authors found support for their hypotheses. In particular, the corrected correlation between positive humor and employee coping effectiveness (ρ = .29), and humor and work performance (ρ = .36) are especially impressive.

It should be noted that some of the meta-analytic correlations that the authors found are based on small batches of studies, which means that caution should be taken when interpreting the results. Nevertheless, the results of this study point to the potentially strong association that positive humor can have with a variety of important work-relate outcomes, indicating that humor may be an important, often-overlooked variable in workplace psychology.


Mesmer-Magnus, J., Glew, D. J., & Viswesvaran, C. (2012). A meta-analysis of positive humor in the workplace. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 27, 155-190.

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