Workplace Humour: to Joke or Not to Joke

I was only joking… It’s just a joke… People are so sensitive these days… Geez, can’t you take a joke?

How often have we heard those words?

Has humour had its day? Are there so many lines we cannot cross that it’s better to stay quiet? Is the world we live in so dire that there’s nothing funny to say anymore? My “after work hobby” is standup comedy, so I really hope not.

Humour is a fundamental part of our wellbeing, and I truly believe that laughter can still be the best medicine. When done right, it reduces stress, promotes psychological safety, builds relationships, and can even help resolve conflicts.

Although humour is universal and subjective, that doesn’t mean everything is funny. This is especially true in the workplace. When it comes to making jokes at work, here are a few guidelines:

  • If you think to yourself, even for a nano second, “mmm, I wonder if they will find this funny?” DO NOT tell the joke.
  • If you make reference (explicit or implicit, positive, or negative) to any attributes (real or imaginary) of another human being, DO NOT tell the joke.
  • If it’s about a contentious topic or serious headline news, DO NOT make a joke.
  • Read the room and if the mood is somber or people are in crisis mode, DO NOT make light of the situation.
So how can we bring appropriate humour into the workplace?

  • Start with yourself – a bit of self-deprecating humour can show that you don’t take yourself too seriously, and this can help to build trust.
  • Use what’s out there – sharing appropriately funny memes, videos, or quotes can help you connect with others and strengthen relationships.
  • Tell a funny personal story – we all have life stories and sharing them shows that we’re willing to be vulnerable, and this encourages others to do the same.
  • Play a fun game – nothing creates more natural laughter than groups of people playing together, and starting a team meeting with a game or fun ice breaker sets the mood and helps people bond.


If we all take a bit of time to bring more levity and share moments of lightness in our workplaces, we can strengthen teams, improve performance and overall wellbeing.  And that’s no joke!

Kwela facilitators use storytelling and appropriate humour to create a fun atmosphere in our training sessions. Go here to see the range of skill development workshops we offer.

Helen Schneiderman, Partner