Workplace humor can have benefits, consequences


ORLANDO, Fla. – There's nothing like a little humor to break the ice, especially at work. But sometimes, our cracks at being funny turn out to be a total flop, which can lead to serious consequences.

So, is there a secret to being funny, and telling the right jokes at the right time? 

For answers, we turned to the performers at SAK Comedy Lab in Downtown Orlando, an improvisational theater where the performers make up everything as they go along. Nothing here is scripted -- they're feeding off the audience, and each other.

That concept is similar to the kind of humor you see in most offices -- everything is off the top of your head, in the moment.

"Laughter is a great way to make nine to five feel like it's a lot less than eight hours," said Dr. David Charles, the Associate Artistic Director at SAK, and the head of the Department of Theater & Dance at Rollins College in Winter Park.

For the last 25 years, Charles has built a career around improv, and says that a good joke can go a long way at work.

"I think most of us like a fun environment, a fun workplace," said Charles.

The research backs that up. According to a study in the employment journal, Human Relations, bosses like to hire people who are funny. And, a lighthearted office setting can attract skilled workers.

But, let's face it -- for all the good gags we've heard, there have been plenty of bad ones as well.

That's why, Charles has some advice to help your jokes become a hit.

First, know your audience.

"You want to be careful that you're not going to offensive material," said Charles.  "Some jokes that may be hilarious late night with a few mates over a beer just are not gonna land in your workplace."

Charles says you should get to know your co-workers, especially their backgrounds and beliefs, before you crack a joke.

"Something you laugh about might actually have just revealed you as being a bit of a misogynist to all your female colleagues," he said.

Also, pay attention to timing. Look at the moment and decide if it's appropriate to be funny. Never joke about serious things, like layoffs.

And, if you do say something that falls flat, Charles says to acknowledge it.

"I think really just acknowledging it, going, ah that was awful I'm sorry, in my mind that was really funny," advised Charles.

"People don't think before they tell jokes, that's why they should never tell jokes," said Roger Lear, the President of OrlandoJobs.com.

Lear says it's not just verbal jokes you need to be careful with. It's also the stuff you write on Facebook Twitter, and email.

"I'm sure everybody has a story where they hit 'Reply All' with really bad jokes, and then they spend the rest of their life trying to say I really didn't mean it," said Lear. "Bad jokes in offices become fireballs for legal action."

One more piece of advice:  Charles says that men should never make jokes about women at work.

But otherwise, the same rules apply to both sexes. Know your audience, and don't joke around at inappropriate times.