How Leader Humour Helps to Develop Employee Creativity
Leader humour is one of the primary leadership behaviours and impacts a wide range of outcomes, including performance, as well as higher employee job satisfaction, stress reduction and higher employee engagement
Employee creativity is often the foundation of organisational innovation, which itself is the basis of a business’s competitive advantage. Consequently, determining which leadership behaviours and work environment factors impact employee creativity is important. Leader humour is one of the primary leadership behaviours and impacts a wide range of outcomes, including performance, as well as higher employee job satisfaction, stress reduction and higher employee engagement.
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Leader humour refers to two things:
- trait humour
- humour expression
Trait humour refers to the individual’s general sense of humour and is a measure of their ability find humour in different situations and contexts. Whilst humour expression, on the other hand, refers to whether or not the individual chooses to articulate that humour in their interactions with others
Leader humour is, therefore, an intentional behaviour aimed at amusing others, being playful, or engaging in banter
A more relaxed work environment where leaders intentionally loosen hierarchical restrictions on social interactions between themselves and their employees often increases positive emotional states. Less formal behaviours tend to allow employees to think and act more flexibly, which encourages creative thinking.
Different forms of humour: leadership humour styles
A number of previous studies have derived two typologies of leader humour:
- The Humour Styles Questionnaire, which categorises the following types of Humour: a. Affiliate – enjoying making people laugh. b. Self-enhancing – using humour to make themselves feel better. c. Aggressive – using humour to put down or reduce the status of others. d. Self-defeating – using humour to put themselves down or be self-deprecating/depreciating.
- The Sense of Humour Styles Inventory, which uses a dimensions model to profile styles of humour: a. Warm versus cold – how good natured the humour is. b. Reflective versus boorish – how spontaneous or rehearsed and repetitive the humour is. c. Competent versus inept – how the individual can tell complex stories and jokes in a way that is engaging and funny versus whether or not they don’t follow the storyline and mess up the ending or punchline. d. Earthy versus repressed – whether or not the individual tells bawdy or risqué jokes regardless of the context through to refusing to respond to humour due to moralistic restraints. e. Benign versus mean-spirited – whether the jokes are based on current events and situations versus stereotyping and pointed humour.
Previous research looking at the importance of leader humour
Previous research looking at the importance of leader humour in the workplace has found that:
- Leader humour is an effective tool for relieving employee stress, boredom and fostering an innovative work atmosphere.
- There is a positive relationship between employee creativity and leader humour.
- When humorous leaders increase relational energy (energy gained through positive social interactions) employees tend to reinvest it back into the business by increasing their creativity.
- Cultural characteristics and values that determine an employee’s level of traditionality (how strictly they adhere to traditional methods, ideas and relationship roles) impact their perceptions of leader humour.
- Humble humorous leaders tend to increase employee’s relational energy through positive social interactions.
A new study
A new study by researchers from the University of Technology, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics and Nankai University in China has looked at the effects of relational energy and traditionality on the relationship between employee creativity and leader humour.
The study found that:
• Leader humour is a significant promoter of employee creativity.
• Non-aggressive forms of leader humour tend to increase relational energy between the leader and employees.
• Higher levels of traditionality reduce the effects of leader humour on relational energy.
• Employee creativity is increased when the leader expresses non-aggressive forms of humour and there is positive relational energy between the leader and employees. In other words, leaders’ humour has more chance of increasing employee creativity when the relationship between the leader and the employees is positive.
Therefore, leader humour indirectly increases employee creativity through higher levels of relational energy when traditionality is low.
…leader humour indirectly increases employee creativity through higher levels of relational energy when traditionality is low
Based on these findings, the researchers suggest that:
- Organisations with a high need for innovation and creativity should emphasise the importance of leader humour (both non-aggressive sense of humour and its expression) by looking for this quality in potential job candidates and including it as a skill in leadership training programmes.
- Where leaders are trying to increase innovation and creativity, leaders should create harmonious working styles designed to increase employee well-being and open communication, as this tends to increase relational energy.
- Leaders should be trained in traditionality detecting to assess their employees’ level of comfort with less hierarchical social interactions.
Yang, C., Yang, F., & Ding, C. (2021). Linking leader humor to employee creativity: the roles of relational energy and traditionality. Journal of Managerial Psychology.
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