A new study confirms what many in the IT industry already know – humour goes a long way in the workplace.
According to a study on how local IT workers use humour in the workplace, published in the International Journal of Humor, joking and banter is the main form of humour used by IT professionals.
Known as ‘taking the piss’, this kind of humour is highly prized by staff wanting a stimulating work environment, says Barbara Plester, of The University of Auckland Business School.
Plester studied the role of humour in three local IT companies, who were granted anonymity for their involvement, for a paper titled Taking the Piss: Functions of Banter in the IT Industry.
She says in an industry where skills are in high demand, fostering a fun culture can be an asset to attract and retain staff.
“These workers enjoyed humour that was slightly risqué and did not wish their workplace to be sanitised and become totally politically correct,” Plester says.
Banter stimulated the laughter IT workers consider indispensable in offsetting the intense business activities they face every day, says Plester. “It was essentially the oil through which workplace relationships were created and maintained.”
Plester observed that banter was initiated by subordinates more often than managers, saying it was non-stop, raucous and sometimes profane.
The study found banter had clear functions including making a point; boredom busting; socialisation; displaying culture; defining status and celebrating difference.
But, humour can also have a dark side and Plester warns that teasing banter can be remarkably hurtful, especially if employees find themselves left out of the joke. “The purpose of mocking banter is to deflate another’s ego and bring them to the same level as others, so if people do not feel included in the bantering it can go dreadfully wrong for the organisation.”
Plester’s study was completed with Janet Sayers of Massey University. It forms part of a general workplace study into the role of humour in organisational culture Plester is completing later this year.