The Role of Laughter in the Office

Gatherings of friends and family are punctuated by bouts of laughter and good-natured humour. The sounds of everyone having a hearty laugh light up dull days and gloomy evenings. But when it comes to laughter in the office, people tend to be a little prudish. We have written about the do’s and don’ts about humour in detail in one of our earlier articles. That was all about humour. Here, we are talking about laughter.

As we have mentioned in the article, a professional space has a much stricter code of conduct and a sense of decorum. Instances of humour might be around the office all the time but laughter, or loud laughter is something that is not heard very often. The tone of our voices remains hushed, and we try to keep a straight face for every interaction. In fact, expressing any range of emotions, forget laughing out loud is something that is often frowned upon. An article by Harvard Business Review charts out the experience of an executive. The executive was at a restaurant with his boss and a few investors. The boss might have said something funny and the executive let out a hearty laugh. To his surprise, everyone around him was taken aback by the laughter. Later when he asked his boss if the laughter had ‘embarrassed’ him, the response was: ‘It was pretty loud.’

Is there no space for a good hearty laugh in the office environment? A good hearty laugh is rare, and something that is rare shouldn’t cause embarrassments and problems, right? Why do we hesitate to laugh out loud in the office? Is it something we should keep in check, like our negative or overwhelming emotions?

Let us delve deeper and look at the angles this has.

Relieving the Tension, Boosting Productivity:

Simply put, the act of laughing out loud not only improves the atmosphere (even momentarily) but also induces various physical and psychological responses in the body. When we laugh, we increase our oxygen intake, release endorphin (the feel-good hormone), stimulate circulation and reduce the physical symptoms of stress. In other words, when we laugh, we take the focus away from the stress, and bring the focus to the present.

When the focus is on the present, it is naturally going to lead to an increase in engagement and productivity, spurring collaboration and creativity, boosting mental clarity and focus. An occasional laughing out loud not only relieves the tension at an individual level but also at a collective level. Where laughter is not frowned upon, there is a safe space to express ideas and drive them forward. This brings us to the next point.

The Humane Touch:

We often make assumptions and mistakes. What we thought was the perfect strategy might turn out to be not so perfect after all. In such situations, laughing at our own selves is sometimes the best solution to soften the blow. This could work especially well for leaders and people in upper -management positions. Laughing at one’s momentary incompetence and lapse of judgment humanises us. It lets the other team members and colleagues know that we are all humans at the end of the day, and prone to making mistakes. Laughing out loud about it can thus ease the tension and make the space feel safer as mentioned above. Laughing out loud is like laughing at the problem and telling it that no matter what, we shall not get bogged down.

But beware!

While laughter in the office space is not something to be frowned upon, and happy employees do the work happily, one should make sure that this happiness is shared by all. In other words, there are times when it is appropriate to laugh. But there are times when laughing out loud might reduce the confidence of a person, or it may make them feel disrespected or it might be just too crude a thing to laugh about. Context matters, as we pointed out in our earlier article as well. The point is to make a safe-space with laughter; the point is to laugh with someone, not at someone.

Laughing out loud in the workplace is a great tool to boost the three Cs: camaraderie, collaboration and creativity. It is a tool that can encourage a free flow of ideas. And simply, it can be a tool to relieve tension at an individual and collective level, humanising us all, and realising that no problem is insurmountable.

Humour In The Office: The Do’s and The Don’ts 

Humour in the office edited image


Laughter is considered one of the best stress-busters out there.

It is a great way to lighten up the atmosphere and the mood.

Aren’t people with a good sense of humour, who have jokes for every occasion such saviours?

Cracking jokes and laughing out loud in an informal setting is one thing. Being amongst friends and family, peers and acquaintances gives a certain level of freedom in LOL-ing our way out of seriousness. Even the edgier kind of humour finds a certain acceptability.

Professional spaces have more stringent boundaries and codes of conduct, and this is applicable to all the funny business as well. But that doesn’t mean a complete embargo on cracking good jokes and displaying a healthy sense of humour.

So first, let us see some good things that can come out of using humour in a professional setting.

Information Retention:

Adding humour in presentations, meetings can engage everyone in a better way, and in turn, increasing the retention of what has been talked about. Remembering why and where we laughed a bit during a presentation helps us to look back and actually remembering the whole presentation. Humour can be thus used to make impactful presentations, and more engaging meetings.


Breaking the News:

Putting an otherwise worrying message across with help of humour is a good idea to lighten up gloom. The humour can also help one realise that whatever happens, they will be able to cope, and that things will fall into place.

Sandwiching difficult to convey news between doses of humour is a good idea if you don’t want to send people into panic modes. Note that we are talking about difficult news, not sad news.


Building Relations:

Cracking a simple, innocent but a joke apt to the situation can furthermore help in building and nurturing relationships. A good sense of humour is a delightful way to put to ease a nervous new employee. Humour is a great tool for rapport building. It can also add light and positive vibes in the office space.


But since we are talking about professional contexts, there are some things one should especially keep in mind.


Do Not Try Too Hard:

The main task is to do the job, not trying to be funny. Your office isn’t a platform for practicing stand-up comedy. If you feel you aren’t naturally funny, it’s best to think twice before saying anything which you think might trigger unwanted reactions. Laughter is used to make things easy, not awkward or worse. It is best if laughter comes through an unforced, organic process.


The Right Kind:

The kind of humour and jokes, and where and how you are using them is very important. There are jokes which are simply inappropriate to the situation or are just blatantly offensive. Avoid cracking jokes directed at communities or sections of people. And there are people who can take a joke, and those who can’t. Make sure to keep such distinctions in mind.


Sensible Humour:

Context is extremely important. And so is having a sense how a joke has gone with everyone. Always assess the situation before making any seemingly humorous remark. You don’t want anyone to feel too uncomfortable. Cracking a joke in front of someone who has just been fired ,for example, may not go well, even if your intention was to “cheer” them up. Sometimes, the context demands you let the storm pass. Don’t joke around just for the sake of it.


Humour in the office is thus a tight-rope balancing act of art. Ideally, it should not feel forced and artificial. But once the art has been mastered, it goes a long way in easing stress levels, tension and boredom. Humour, in a professional setting is all about understanding the rights and wrongs.