Leading with Laughter

Bringing humor to work even if you’re not funny.

By now you may be well aware that incorporating humor into the workplace leads to some incredible benefits for employees and organizations, including:

  • Reduced Absenteeism
  • Enhanced Problem-Solving Skills
  • Increased Production and Persistence
  • Boost in Creativity    

I could go on about employee morale, improving relationships, etc., but you get it—humor works! However, the most frequent question I get after people watch my TEDx Talk: Leading with Laughter is: “But what if I’m not funny?”

First, if you’re sitting there thinking you’re just not that funny…you might be right. You may not be very funny, but you are self-aware, which is way more important!

Whether you’re the corporate comedian or you’re more of a serious manager, here’s a model to help you add levity to your workplace:

The L.A.F.T.E.R. Model

(I’ve never understood why there’s an “ugh” in the middle of the word, “laUGHter,” anyway, so let’s just spell it right.)

Lead by example

Ask for help

Fun over funny

Tell your story

Earn it


Lead by Example

Whether you’re funny or not, if you’re committed to incorporating humor at work, you have to show it, and the easiest way is by not taking yourself too seriously. That means doing things like participating in those ridiculous teambuilders or even making fun of yourself on occasion! Bad hair day? Stain on your shirt? Rather than trying to cover it up all day, show it off! I once spilled a thermos of coffee on my lap and rather than heading straight for the restroom, I stopped by the lobby where several employees were and showed off my stupidity. Immediately, the employee who I knew the least and was typically very quiet, shook his head and said, “I told you to see a doctor about that!” which got everyone laughing. From then on, he seemed more at ease around me as a supervisor and our relationship felt more genuine.

Ask for Help

If humor isn’t your thing, there’s always someone who would love to take on the task! In fact, once you anoint them as your “Head of Humor,” “Queen of Comedy,” or whatever you want to call it, you probably won’t get them to leave you alone about all of the ideas they have! (Can you already picture who this person is in your office?)

In fact, you can even “Ask for help” with “Leading by example.” One executive I know who isn’t great at being funny on the spot had a brilliant idea. He asked his colleagues who he was close with to tease him more often in front of employees rather than just when they were alone so people could see that he was easy-going and could laugh at himself!

Fun over Funny.

For most of us, trying too hard to be funny leads to more groans and eye rolls than laughs (think Michael Scott in The Office). If you want to get people laughing, rather than trying to be funny, just get them to have fun. According Robert Provine, we are 30 times more likely to laugh in groups than by ourselves (Psychology Today, 2016). The key is to engage people in activities where they can play and interact with one another, such as making a meal together, doing a service project, trivia, talent show, NCAA Basketball or Oscars brackets for prizes, etc.

Tell Your Story

Bringing humor to work doesn’t have to be a covert operation. You’ll gain more traction if you simply tell people your goal. Let them know you’re hoping to make it a more fun place to work, and you’ll probably get ideas from them. This also shows people you’re trying and you care about them.

Tell your story to potential employees and customers, as well. Is fun or humor reflected in your company’s values? What about in advertising, Facebook pages, tweets, etc.? How about job descriptions? Along with technical skills, add that you’re looking for someone with a “sense of humor” or who values a “fun and creative work environment.”

Earn It

You’ve now read most of an article (congratulations, by the way), about the importance of humor at work. Unfortunately, that doesn’t give you license to spend your day practicing one-liners or watching YouTube videos of cats falling into fish tanks. Before you can be goofy, you have to be good.

A 2012 Bell Leadership Institute study found that when employees are asked to describe characteristics of leaders in their organizations, “work ethic” and “sense of humor” are mentioned twice as much as any other trait. People must see you as reliable first, then your tomfoolery will be accepted as a welcome reprieve rather than an annoying distraction.


You can’t change the corporate culture with just a funny bulletin board or a ping-pong table. A company’s culture is defined by its rituals, which occur annually, monthly, weekly, and daily. An annual holiday party is great, but if that’s the only fun event all year, it’s not impacting the culture. Here are a few examples of rituals to get you started:

Annual: Holiday parties, service projects, run/walks, kickball game, awards banquet

Monthly/Seasonal: Funny employee of the month, making customers smile award, NCAA or Oscars bracket challenge, costume contests, potluck, trivia

Weekly: Monday Pun-day (add new pun to your office door/bulletin board), “Toesday” (encourage people to wear sandals in the summer), Team Tuesdays (always do a teambuilder on Tuesday mornings), Wacky Sock Wednesday, The Friday Funny (send out a funny video, talk, or article every Friday)

Daily: Make boring office signage funny, have a joke-a-day calendar, 3 p.m. dance party (everyone takes a three-minute break at 3 p.m. for the duration of one song chosen by a different employee each time)

You don’t have to be the funniest person in your organization to be the one to add more humor. Using humor to create a culture of fun is doable—just get rid of the “ugh” and add some L.A.F.T.E.R.!


“The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up,” Adrian Gostick (Wiley, April 2008)

“Positive affect facilitates creative problem solving,” Alice M. Isen, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1987.

“The Energizing Effect of Humor,” The Association for Psychological Science, January, 2016.

“Do You Talk Funny?” David Nihill (BenBella, 2016)

“The Science of Laughter,” Robert Provine, Psychology Today, 2000, 2016.

“Bell Leadership Study Finds Humor Gives Leaders the Edge,” www.bellleadership.com, 2012.

Paul Osincup is a speaker, consultant, and humorist. With a Master’s degree in Higher Education Leadership and a background in stand-up and improv comedy, Osincup uses his expertise in leadership and levity to create positive corporate climates. As an Associate Dean of Students and a Conflict Resolution specialist at Colorado State University, he was responsible for addressing high-risk behavioral issues. In 2013 he was a consultant at the U.S. Department of Education’s Center for Alcohol, Drug, and Violence Prevention. Despite the serious nature of his work, Osincup believes the best leaders do it with humility and humor.