In every social group, people fit into a status hierarchy. The workplace is no exception. Many try to climb the status ladder by logging long hours, volunteering for additional assignments and dressing for success.
A recent study titled "Risky Business: When Humor Increases and Decreases Status" found that a good sense of humor improves professional status at the workplace. People perceive funny colleagues as more competent and confident than serious or boring colleagues — if humor is done the right way. Other findings include:
- Humor attempts, both successful and unsuccessful ones, increase perception of confidence.
- Only the successful humor attempt that elicits laughter increases perception of competence.
- Telling an inappropriate joke makes a joke teller appear more confident, but less competent and decreases status.
- An effective joke teller is more likely to be chosen as a group leader.
"Humor is often viewed as a frivolous or ancillary behavior. As we show, it is not. It is quite serious," said Maurice Schweitzer, one of the study's researchers and a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Humor leads to higher status, but it can work the other way, too. Greater status gives license to joking. Higher-status individuals within organizations have the luxury of making jokes comfortably and face lower risks. "The higher you are, the harder it is to get fired," said Peter McGraw, an associate professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Colorado Boulder.