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10 ways leaders can add humor to workplace

Fostering a sense of humor can be an effective strategy for boosting employee morale, productivity, and overall well-being.

[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

With more technology mediating our communication, it is harder to bring a sense of humor to work (it’s easy to sound like a robot). A recent survey found one of the top characteristics that inspires trust in a leader is one who “speaks like regular people.” And what better way to be authentic and relatable than through humor?

A culture of levity allows teams to play at the highest level. In today’s fast-paced and competitive environment, fostering a sense of humor within an organization has proven to be an effective strategy for boosting employee morale, productivity, and overall well-being.

Mohammad Al-Moumen, Associate Partner at the McKinsey Middle East Office, says humor can strengthen a company’s culture and enhance the culture of support within a team if done right. 

“More than just about laughter, humor is about feeling connected to an organization’s purpose, and it promotes creativity and resilience among employees. What we see within organizations is humor breaks down barriers, fosters trust, and strengthens interpersonal relationships.” 

Levity in the workplace contributes to a more positive overall work environment – a factor that, according to McKinsey’s research — is the number-one predictor of employee psychological safety.

A new Stanford Business School case study looks at humor at Dubai’s McKinsey’s firm spotlighting the efforts of Al-Moumen. From virtual office events in Dubai to live stand-ups and introducing humor into client work, Al-Moumen’s comedy has evolved, reaching across geographies and formalizing humor as a skill set.

Simply put, teams that laugh together perform better.

Humor benefits mental well-being, physical health, and even your bottom line. And that’s not all. With employee turnover increasing over the past few years in the Middle East, costing companies millions, humor’s impact on employee retention is a timely salve to a silent crisis affecting leaders and organizations worldwide.

Al-Moumen says the first thing to acknowledge is that humor already exists in any workplace. Wherever there are people, there is humor in some shape or form. But how can leaders foster inclusive humor that brings employees together?

“By setting an example. Your role as a leader isn’t necessarily to crack jokes but to set the right tone for your organization. Self-deprecation, for example, is a great way to show others that you take your work seriously but not yourself. Laugh at yourself a bit more, and let others see that and feel more connected to you. Allow colleagues to ‘punch up’ at you – it’s a great way to break barriers, promote inclusivity, release organizational pressure, and signal a healthy level of self-confidence that an organization thrives on.”

Here are 10 ways, according to Al-Moumen, leaders can add humor to the workplace:


Start with your local cultural context and experiment with various media, execution, length, and types of humor to build confidence and expertise before layering in the additional complexity of cross-cultural communication.


Cultivate a network of diverse trusted voices within your work setting and personal life, and ask them for authentic feedback in structured communication about each new content piece.


As you expand beyond contexts you’re familiar with, rely on the Internet (including comedy videos online) and friends and colleagues from different cultures to understand how humor and levity translate to their context.


Understand what works for you and the levity you’re expressing, and expand that comfort zone over time with experimentation. Try stand-up, film, writing, and interviews and see what works and where you feel confident.


Understand how your organization makes decisions and builds business cases around its existing criteria. Create surveys, collect impact stories, and find champions in influential positions.


Identify people in your organization who control resources (people who “hold the purse”) and ask them for help. Think through your highest priorities and best uses of time and ask for help with the rest. This help can be technical, writing, or even presenting.


Attach yourself and your work to people in influential positions. This provides a stamp of validity, creates a magnet effect for others to get involved, and allows senior leaders to present more of their real selves.


Don’t try to experiment with too many things at once because it will be hard to understand what changes are working versus not. If you find successful approaches or ways of working, scale those as you experiment with new cultural competencies; as you become comfortable cross-culturally, bring in further experimentation around medium and method.


Train others and embed these skills in newer generations of colleagues and leaders. Ask for time and resources from your HR partners and managers and cultivate a network of skilled people who can spread your work with more capacity and in places and contexts you don’t have time or resources to get to.


Name your work and give it an easily recognizable public presence so that others can spread the word and understand it more succinctly. Understand what drives value and revenue for your organization and link humor to these activities for true staying power. It’s hard to lose once it’s part of the core value proposition.

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Suparna Dutt D’Cunha is the Editor at Fast Company Middle East. She is interested in ideas and culture and cover stories ranging from films and food to startups and technology. She was a Forbes Asia contributor and previously worked at Gulf News and Times Of India. More

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