Balancing Humor at Work


One of people’s biggest fears with using humor in the workplace is being seen as inappropriate. Guest author Sarah Clare shares some tips on how to balance humor at work and help ensure that the humor is appropriate.


Conversation Icon SurprisedHumor is a great way to deal with the overwhelming stress we face at work. When our co-workers are driving us crazy, our boss is breathing down our necks, and our schedule is so packed it seems like we don’t even have time to go to the bathroom, a little laughter can help lighten our moods and make it all easier to bear.

However, it is important to understand how to balance humor at work so that it does not become inappropriate or interfere with your work or–worse–get you in trouble or even fired. Here are a few tips for balancing humor at work:

Right Time

Knowing the right time to use humor at work is critical. Cutting a joke when your boss asks you whether your project is going to meet deadline isn’t appropriate. But cutting a joke when your co-worker is venting about the same project and feeling stressed about the looming deadline might be. You must learn when a joke is appropriate and when you have to be professional.

Right Place

Where you attempt to use humor is just as important as when. If you are in the middle of a meeting with shareholders or important investors, a joke might not be appropriate (but a personal story could be). If you are in the break room or at an employee party, a joke can be more acceptable. Consider the context of your joke, as well, to determine if you are in the right place to tell it.

Right Person

One of the most important factors determining the appropriateness of humor in any particular situation — but especially at work — is your audience. When you are dealing with your boss or important clients, you must be more careful about the types of jokes or stories you tell and when you tell them. When you are dealing with co-workers, you have a little more latitude. However, it is also important to consider each person’s individual sense of humor and their receptiveness to your style of humor when weighing the appropriateness of what you are about to say.

Right Humor

There are different types of humor and knowing the right type is important. Additionally, there are certain topics that are almost always inappropriate to tell at work, no matter who you tell them to or when. It is wise to steer clear of religion, politics, sex or race — the same topics you shouldn’t be discussing in conversation at work either. A good rule of thumb is to stay safe by telling jokes or funny stories that you wouldn’t mind telling your parents, children, or dog.

Humor at work can help you to make your work day go by easier. However, if used incorrectly, it can make you seem unprofessional, can anger your boss, or could even get you fired (just as cursing out a customer could get you fired). Make sure you are always using humor at the right time, in the right place, with the right person, and with the right joke. Otherwise, you may not be laughing at the results.

How do you balance humor at work? Share your tips or tell us your best work-friendly jokes in the comments!

Sarah Clare is a writer and oversees the site, where she has recently been researching project accounting software. In her spare time, Sarah enjoys cooking and scrapbooking.

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