Can you be Funny at Work?

Jonathan Macedo – Unsplash

I was listening to a Prof G Show podcast episode that Scott Galloway had with Dr. Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas. They were talking about their book: “Humor, Seriously: why humor is a secret weapon in business and life”.

Jennifer and Naomi: “Humor at the workplace is good.”

Scott: “Humor at the workplace is too risky to be worth it.”

I think they are both correct, but it’s a bit more nuanced.

Humor works best when everyone in the group finds the same things offensive and the same things socially acceptable.

Now that we are increasingly online, we spend most of our time in digital spaces with curated relationships that self-select for similar views on life. The only two exceptions to that is work and school.

It’s unlikely that the people you work with or go to school with all agree on what is considered offensive and what is considered socially acceptable.

To make sure everyone has a comfortable work experience it’s probably better to eliminate all the jokes that can potentially offend someone. Scott Galloway has a funny line: “once you do that all you’re left with is knock knock jokes”.

People have strong opinions on if this is a good or bad thing. But I think it’s just a function of compromises that have to be made when working with others so that everyone feels comfortable.

However, I strongly agree with Jennifer and Naomi on their point that being funny is a massive advantage in business and in life.

So really it’s all about balance. Finding the balance between being funny without being offensive is actually a very tricky balance to find. So tricky, for some people it might not even be worth the risk. Sometimes it’s better to just keep your head down, do your work and maybe throw in the occasional platitude every once in a while. But if you can find that balance, it’s spectacular.

Being funny at work is like making a flambe dish. If you get it right, it’s beautiful to witness, just be careful not to burn anyone, including yourself.