MURRAY, Ky. — Good-natured comedians rejoice — and don’t quit your day jobs!
Dr. Amanda Watson Joyce, assistant professor of psychology at Murray State University, has been garnering attention in the national media for her research on happiness that focuses on how humor impacts workplace satisfaction.
Joyce shared that her first psychology mentor, Dr. Arnie Cann of the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte, was a jack of all trades in his research and was particularly interested in workplace satisfaction as it related to humor. Cann recruited to the research team both Joyce and UNC–Charlotte alumna Elisabeth Bridgewater, now a licensed independent clinical social worker in Seattle, Washington.
Joyce, Cann and Bridgewater developed a questionnaire to measure humor in the workplace. They built the Humor Climate Questionnaire (HCQ) from scratch, starting with definitions of the different types of humor. Then they deployed the questionnaire on working UNC–Charlotte students.
“This is actually something very outside of my regular line of research, so I’m surprised to see it get the attention it has,” Joyce said, laughing. “But I feel like people are connecting to it. They know what it’s like to be in a good job. They know what it’s like to be in a miserable job.”
The team’s work was first picked up by Wallet Hub on Sept. 10 but has since been featured in several national and international news outlets, such as AOL, People Magazine and La Voce di Italia along with local coverage in the Murray Ledger & Times.
According to their definitions, positive humor supports others and strengthens relationships. Negative humor is aggressive and demeans: making someone feel bad, ridiculing their mistakes or intimidating them. Additionally, subversive negative humor allows a group to attack an outside “common enemy,” which usually involves ridiculing management or people in another department.
The HCQ asked the survey takers what kind of humor was prevalent in their workplaces. The questionnaire and findings have now been translated into several languages, such as Turkish and Finnish, and used worldwide.
Ultimately, the findings support a correlation but not necessarily causation. Simply, positive humor and workplace satisfaction are related. Yet, it is unclear if humor causes workplace satisfaction or if satisfied workers are more likely to joke with one another.
“But we can consider the directionality a little better with positive humor because we know if supervisors are supporting that positive humor then you’re more satisfied,” Joyce said. “If supervisors are supporting it, then you’re more likely to use it.”
Given that Wallet Hub used workplace satisfaction as one of their key indicators in their quest to find the happiest state, it was only natural that they would turn to Joyce to get more background on the topic.
“If you have positive humor — not jabbing at others, but really lifting each other up — you’re more satisfied with your job, you’re more committed to your job and you’re just happier to be there,” Joyce said. “If you think your supervisor supports having humor in the workplace you’re happier to be there, more committed and — interestingly enough — more satisfied with your pay.”
Conversely, it is essential to recognize when there is a spiral of negative humor in the workplace. Naturally, some of that behavior is or can quickly become bullying. It is best to prevent these actions in their beginning stages before they become serious.
Joyce joined the Murray State University faculty in the fall of 2014. She teaches psychology courses about lifespan development, general psychology, child development, adolescent development, developmental bases of behavior, psychology of aging and the psychology of personality.