Humor Boosts Bottom Line, Study Shows


5-20-96
Philadelphia, Pa. -- A recent study reveals a direct link between a manager's use of humor and enhanced corporate performance.

"It's long been argued that a good sense of humor is a key communication tool that can bring about group cohesion and commitment, thus facilitating good performance," said Dr. John J. Sosik, study co-author and assistant professor in the graduate management program at Penn State's Great Valley graduate campus in suburban Philadelphia.

"But until now, humor's effects have largely been untested. This study gives us some evidence of these effects that, in the past, were just hunches."

The study, presented at the national meeting of the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology in San Diego, is co-authored by Dr. Bruce J. Avolio, professor of management at the State University of New York, Binghamton; Dr. Jane M. Howell, associate professor in the School of Business at the University of Western Ontario and Sosik.

Titled "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bottom Line," the study examined the effects of leadership behavior and humor style on individual and unit performance. Data were collected in a major Canadian financial institution by gathering survey data from 322 employees. Performance data, collected a year later, measured unit performance and performance appraisal ratings.

"The pattern of results indicates that the style of humor exhibited by a leader had a positive impact on unit performance...These preliminary results suggest that how leaders influence their direct reports with respect to humor style may be one of a number of factors which contribute to bottomline performance," explained Avolio.

Interestingly, managers who had adopted a "transformational" leadership style - a management style research has shown to promote the highest levels of employee and overall organizational performance - were found to use humor most often, the study found.

"This is an exciting finding," Sosik said. "Humor juxtaposes two seemingly opposite concepts. As a result, employees are able to visualize concepts they might not have otherwise considered, thus creating new ideas and potentially an improved bottom line. In short, this suggests that a leader's use of humor may help shape a creative and efficacious work force."

Avolio, also a fellow at of the Center for Leadership Studies at SUNY Binghamton, has authored or edited numerous research articles and several books, including Improving Organizational Effectiveness Through Transformational Leadership (co-editor, 1994). Sosik has published research papers in numerous management journals, including the Journal of Leadership Studies and the Journal of Business and Psychology. Howell, a recognized expert on charismatic leadership, has also published widely in leading journals.

Contact: Nancy Crabb (610) 648-3276 nmh1@psu.edu