The usefulness of humor in achieving organizational goals is no laughing matter. Past research has established links between humor and a variety of outcomes, such as performance and job satisfaction. New research (Cooper, Kong, & Crossley, 2018) extends the literature one step further, uncovering a relationship between humor and organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), which is when employees go above and beyond their basic job descriptions and take action that benefits their organization.
HOW HUMOR LEADS TO POSITIVE OUTCOMES
The authors conducted two studies of several hundred employees and their leaders, spanning several US companies. Results indicated that when leaders use humor, their employees have better emotional reactions and better quality relationships with their leaders. The scientific term for these relationships between leaders and employees is called leader-member exchange (LMX). When LMX improves, positive outcomes typically follow. In this study, these better relationships between leaders and employees led to the employees engaging in more organizational citizenship behavior.
The authors used a research design that was spread out over two time periods, as well as sophisticated statistical analysis, allowing them to claim that the leader humor caused the better feelings and relationships, and not vice-versa.
The researchers also explored a different explanation for the effects of humor—that leader humor causes employees to be less stressed and be less likely to suffer from burnout. Theoretically, this mentally relaxed state would lead employees to perform more organizational citizenship behavior. However, the research did not support this hypothesis.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
This research demonstrates that leaders can influence their employees to increase organizational citizenship behavior by using humor in the workplace. The use of humor improves emotions and relationships. When employees have good relationships with their leaders, they tend to increase their efforts toward helping the organization, even when they are not required to. This study also explored humor as a behavior, not a trait. This means that a leader does not necessarily have to be a “funny person” to gain these results. Anyone is likely capable of injecting a little humor into the workplace and reaping the rewards.
Cooper, C. D., Kong, D. T., & Crossley, C. D. (2018). Leader Humor as an Interpersonal Resource: Integrating Three Theoretical Perspectives. Academy of Management Journal, 61(2), 769-796.