The Punchline: A Meta-Analytic Review of Humor in the Workplace

Topic(s): Off The Wall

Topic: 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

As a serious academic and applied discipline, IO psychology is not a field known for turning out humorists. That said, it may not be surprising that 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 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 the humor construct, while the delineation of several different types of humor that serve different roles and tend to result in different outcomes has also complicated this area.

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 coefficients. 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 IO 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.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management


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