Job market / Warwick

Can you take your working life seriously?

Recruiters often ask for “a sense of humour” in job descriptions or person specifications. Is this a cliché or is it intended to make their job adverts attractive? Could it be coded language warning of onerous duties and expectations and odd company cultures?

Have you ever noticed these phrases?

“Must have a good sense of humour.”

“This is a busy firm. A sense of humour and a flexible, resilient attitude are necessary.”

“Successful people in our company share a keen sense of humour and broad shoulders.”

“You will need a great sense of humour and an ease with people.”

Can ‘a sense of humour’ actually make a difference in the workplace?

Yes! It can be a key to success at work in four specific ways:

  1. Communication: Sharing a giggle helps colleagues establish bonds and develops rapport. Laughing breaks down barriers and is a great leveller. A sense of humour can indicate emotional intelligence and might help towards building strong business relationships.
  2. Productivity: When work involves repetitive tasks, monotony can undermine productivity. Sharing a joke distracts from  boredom and makes work more enjoyable. Surveys and anecdotal evidence suggest that humour is important for career advancement and that people with a good sense of it do a better job!
  3. De-stress: When we laugh, an emotional and a physical response is triggered and we relax. There is strong evidence that humour reduces dysfunctional stress and that by reframing stressful situations people can perceive them as more manageable.
  4. Creativity: The power of laughter sometimes opens up new ideas, positive ways of thinking and problem solving and can help people to make new connections.

Some other views on this?

Companies such as Deloitte & Touche LLP use “Humour Consultants” periodically.

“While we haven’t done any formal research on the subject, we are BIG believers that life is too short, and you work too many hours, not to have fun while you’re doing it. So part of our culture is about enjoying each other, being passionate about what you do, and having fun while you do it! All of this helps us serve our clients better, exceed their expectations, and grow faster than any of our competitors.” (J. Wall, Personal Communication, November 8, 2002)

When humour is used fittingly it can demonstrate “…maturity and the ability to see the forest through the trees. You don’t have to be a stand-up comedian, but well-placed humour that is clever and apropos to a business situation always enhances an employee’s career” (Lynn Taylor, workplace expert).

“A sense of humour is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

But beware…. There is a flip side!

Humour can be discriminatory, exclusive and offensive. In these cases it causes stress! There is a psychotherapy theory that humour can be a defence mechanism. It may allow people to avoid experiencing their emotions, enabling them to distance themselves from difficulties in the workplace.
Job advertisements stressing the need for humour may appeal to people who genuinely enjoy a joke and want to work with like-minded people. The reality could be a bit more sinister. Perhaps it is an indication that the culture of the company is a little inappropriate, the environment chaotic and that they are looking for someone who will not fall apart.

“… I want to hire someone who, in times of difficulty, will not break down in tears and cry, but can bounce back and tackle the situation with a positive attitude. So no, it doesn’t necessarily mean I want to hire the class clown for a position, but should things go wrong, I want you to be buckle up, face the situation, and move forward with a smile and a great attitude.”(anonymous employer)

Arguably, having a sense of humour can make life more fun and us more likeable, but when it is a ‘must’ for the workplace you may want to ask yourself whether this is the type of environment and role that you would enjoy being part of. And as the National Careers Service advises, “You should only need a sense of humour if the job itself is a joke, so steer well clear of this! The only job you need a sense of humour for is as a comedian.”


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