Bad bosses shouldn't make jokes if they want to keep their staff happy

James Nickerson
Follow James
Brent said: I've created an atmosphere here where I'm a friend first, boss second. Probably an entertainer third. (Source: BBC)

As the boss of the Wernham-Hogg Paper Company, David Brent once said: "When people say to me: would you rather be thought of as a funny man or a great boss? My answer's always the same. To me, they're not mutually exclusive."

But he was wrong, according to a new study.

New research from the University of Missouri shows that bad bosses should not make jokes with their staff as it annoys and offends them.

Read more: Are boring bosses the culprit behind the UK's productivity problem?

Typically, bosses who use humour as a means to make their employees more happy will only be successful if the staff have a good relationship with their boss. Those who have a poor relationship will find their staff increasingly dissatisfied.

The research, led by professor Christopher Robert, also runs counter to conventional wisdom that positive humour in the office is good for morale, while negative humour, such as sarcasm, may hamper morale. Robert said:

Generally, people think that positive humour, which is inclusive, is good in leadership, and negative humour, which is aggressive and offensive, is bad

But it turns out the relationship between leader humour and job satisfaction was dependent on the quality of the "leader-subordinate relationship", rather than the kind of humour employed.

Read more: These are the professions with the worst bosses

So what should David Brent and his ilk do? The research recommended that bosses first build a strong relationship through means other than humour, such as fair treatment and feedback, and then use humour as a way to bolster those relationships.

Good luck letting your boss know their jokes aren't funny, mind...

Related articles