25 September 2023

Research finds humour no laughing matter

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Researchers at the Australian National University in Canberra (ANU) have found out that humour at work can help employees deal with workplace aggression and stressful situations.

Lead researcher, David Cheng of the ANU College of Business and Economics, said workplace aggression and bullying was a widespread problem which impacted the mental health of victims.

“The ramifications can be expensive for organisations,” Dr Cheng said.

“However, this research shows humour can be used to reduce the negative impact of aggression.

“While obviously the best solution to workplace aggression is to stamp out the poor behaviour, our research shows if something stressful does happen to you at work, a bit of laughter can help.”

He said the experiments worked by having participants exposed to a simulation of a colleague aggressively shouting at them and then shown one of two short videos, one of which was humorous.

“The experiments consistently showed exposure to humorous stimuli is useful for victims of aggression,” Dr Cheng said.

“Humour helps reduce some of the damage caused to a victim’s psychological well-being by bolstering their sense of power.”

He said the participants felt more powerful, and that people would be more likely to listen to them.

“That’s important because with workplace aggression, when you get yelled at you feel belittled, you feel weaker. So humour can help counter that by making you feel more empowered,” he said.

The study is part of a larger research project into the impact of laughter in the workplace, with another of Dr Cheng’s studies showing humour can also boost productivity.

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