Employee engagement is no laughing matter

Jokes improve employee engagement? You're kidding

October 15, 2015

Bosses who rely on jokes and sarcasm may be harming employee engagement, according to new research.

Boffins at the University of Missouri found that managers, particularly if they’re bad at their own jobs, should stay well away from using one-liners when talking to new members of staff.


The research, based on feedback from 70 leaders and 241 staff in 54 organisations, suggests managers should concentrate on clear communication, fair treatment and feedback when dealing with new recruits.

Once a solid working relationship has been established, humour can then be used to maintain a relationship.

Christopher Robert, associate professor in the university’s Department of Management, told the Mail Online: “In our study, we found the effects of humor depend on the relationship between leaders and subordinates.

“Specifically, both positive and negative humour use by leaders is positively related to their subordinates’ job satisfaction when the relationship between the leader and subordinates is good.”

But trying to use humour from the outset of a working relationship – or used in an unstable working relationship – can have a negative impact on employee engagement.

Mr Robert added: “When the leader-subordinate relationship is bad, both negative and positive types of humour are associated with lower job satisfaction.

“Instead of using humour to build relationships, leaders should work to build strong relationships through other means such as through clear communication, fair treatment, and providing clear and useful feedback.

“Humour then can be used to maintain those strong relationships.”

No wonder David Brent got the boot from Wernham Hogg.