No, you’re not having a laugh

A sense of humour is generally considered a good thing, but using it at work may not be a good idea - especially if you are the boss.

Nick Green


Research by Oliver Mallett, a lecturer in management at Durham Business School, suggests that using jokes when dealing with employees can create confusion and uncertainty, and could even be construed as bullying.

Managers who like a joke can also confuse staff by leaving them unsure as to how much formal respect they are expected to show their boss. “Most owners actually expect more deference from staff as the organisation grows, but because they are using humour, they are sending out opposite signals,” said Mallett. “For example, in one case an owner came in late and an employee stood up, pointed at his watch and said: ‘What time do you call this then?’. That employee was formally disciplined because the owner felt that he deserved respect.” However, the employee - used to the owner raising questions of others’ lateness in a similar way - was left confused about where the boundaries were.

Nicholas Green, founder of, the digital printing company, has tried to create a “barrierless” environment for his 150 employees. Music is allowed at work and there is no dress code. “I want people to have fun,” he said. "Humour has played quite a big role in that because we are a pretty young team."

However, Green believes that jokes are not the right response to all situations in the workplace. “If you need to say to someone, ‘You are not doing well’, you have to do it seriously. The employee needs to know there is a problem. It does not help anybody if there is a blurred line.”

Source: "No, you’re not having a laugh" (The Sunday Times)


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