New research conducted at UNSW’s Business School has shown how joking around really does help you get through long hours at work.

Associate lecturer David Cheng has found humour and making light of a situation can help employees see a task through even after they’ve been working long shifts. 

“This shows that humour can complement diligent work, and may be more powerful than other positive emotions, like pride in getting the job done,” he says. “We normally think of joking around as being the antithesis of work and that carrying out one’s work should always be very serious.”

For the newly published research, Cheng recruited 142 undergraduate students to participate in the study and found humour also helps people persist at tasks for longer, compared to other positive emotions, such as contentment.

Building on earlier research, the full research paper additionally finds that people with a certain type of sense of humour are more able to capitalise on the energising effects of humour.  He says “the effect is most pronounced if they have self-enhancing humour in contrast to say those who may use self-deprecating humour, or even aggressive humour.”

“Self-enhancing humour is where people laugh at circumstances and idiosyncrasies of life in constructive, non-detrimental manner. This is typically where people could see their work as a ‘sit-com’, and here our findings suggest, people are more able to persist at a long tedious job because they experience amusement by looking on the bright side of life,” he says.

Normally people in business think of all positive emotions as pretty much the same, such as pride or contentment. However he says “if this was the case, then whether you just did something good to make them feel happy or made them laugh at a joke would have similar effects.” 
“However, our findings show that humour is more powerful at helping and this is because of the ‘play in the mind’ associated with the fun in the joke or humour, which actually helps to give people a really good break, in the space of just a few seconds.”

The new ground-breaking research shows that in effect, humour can be helpful in a work environment because it makes employees feel good when things are tough, and it takes their mind off what they are doing.

The major new research, "Examining the Energizing Effects of Humor: The Influence of Humor on Persistence Behavior” examines whether, when, and how humor can increase individuals’ persistence. It was published in this month’s Journal of Business Psychology.

For further details contact David Cheng​ on 02 9385 7404, 0415 072 850  

Media contact: 
Julian Lorkin: 02 9385 9887