Humor and Management

When an organization wants to give itself a positive image, it defines itself as “serious”. In the world of work, seriousness has always had a positive connotation. We evaluate and we tend to evaluate based on concepts that have to do with reliability, efficiency, but often associating seriousness with rigidity.

Managers are on average fairly self-restrained people, whose look [from behavior to clothing, to how to behave] is often the result of choices dictated by the business context and the social environment to which they belong, where one must choose the mask of the serious-angry because it is believed that this is the only way to be a leader, to make a career, to gain consent, maybe neglecting the deepening or the solidarity of a theme or a problem humbly collecting the opinion and ideas of their collaborators, o other initiatives and behaviors that create a collaborative environment of mutual esteem and trust.

Yet there is no shortage of thinkers in all fields of culture and professionals who support the importance of irony [Dostoevsky, Quintiliano, Kierkegaard, Pirandello, to name a few examples].

Irony is an integral part of our life, it allows us to play down difficult moments, to make the day lighter and, above all, to release the accumulated stress. Even in the workplace, irony is an extremely important component: during a day full of hard and tiring commitments, a polite joke or laughter helps us to better face our tasks. If we all learned to take ourselves a little less seriously, we would probably live better and be better in our work.

There is nothing better than entering an office, considered a “place for serious things” knowing in advance that you will have at least the opportunity to smile.

The frowning attitudes, that are supposed to characterize efficient managers, reliable workers, and professional consultants, are part of a bureaucratic vision of work. Leading, commanding, does not necessarily mean acting harshly,  distant. On the contrary, in the real world irony serves to establish that climate of complicity, correspondence of intent, and visions that allows us to work better in harmony. And this does not mean that respect is lacking, that hierarchies and dependencies are no longer recognized, but more simply, it is assumed that people are fundamentally serious and professional, but precisely for this reason they are able to play down thanks to a sense of the humor.

Humor is the other side of seriousness, the world of work requires mixing them in a skillful cocktail, alternating them according to the circumstances: irony and seriousness is just a complementary way of facing life and work. In companies, people do not live a separate experience from the other contexts of their daily existence. On the contrary, they experience a wide range of relationships and an intensity of feelings at work no less than that in other areas of social life.

Life, especially corporate life, is funny, grotesque, ironic. One cannot impose on it a negativity that is not appropriate. And managers can take advantage of the use of behaviors apparently unrelated to business logic, such as humor, which can, for example, help them avoid the risk of arrogance or mitigate the distance of power that separates them from other operators or if proposed by the latter, draw some ideas to correct their behavior.

Humorous sensitivity can help prevent future damage [see for example a communication destined to be counterproductive] or when things are going well, it is certainly a remedy against triumphalism and excessive emphasis on one’s skill.

Humor can be an important resource precisely in those business contexts that are engaged in difficult processes of change, where the different subjects – in particular the managers – are destined to find themselves weak, where exposure to different forms of struggle is strong, where It is difficult to create a coherent design, where multiple identities are in perpetual conflict.

A smile inspired by a joke denounces the problem but does not suffocate you in it, giving you the ability to analyze adversity from a positive point of view.

Let’s think about the state of stress. The feeling of emotional loneliness only worsens one’s situation: one lives in a state of permanent negativity. Addressing even the worst situations with a ready-made mood, I believe helps to share the weight, to make it more acceptable or, ultimately, better manageable.

In view of the development of Human Capital, as a rule, in the world of work, reference is made to the rational part of people. However, modern organizations have become aware of the importance of motivation and staff satisfaction within their structure. To achieve continuously growing results, it is essential to operate in a satisfying and stimulating work climate.

It is clear that the competitive advantage belongs to those companies that not only recognize the importance of the human factor but also manage to effectively stimulate their staff.

The companies most interested in the efficiency of their staff have introduced approaches aimed at achieving employee satisfaction using advanced tools designed to analyze in detail the various aspects that determine the climate of the company reality. It is clear that the competitive advantage belongs to those companies that not only recognize the importance of the human factor but also manage to effectively stimulate their staff. Given that the attention rate must be kept at the highest levels in order to capture people’s hearts as well as the mind, in this perspective, the playful aspect can play a role of considerable importance. In summary, in a company, you can be very serious, rigorous, competent, professional, precise, punctual, reliable and concrete, while reserving the right to have fun, in the sense of experiencing taste for the things you do. An environment that also lends itself to some witty, lively, brilliant attitude is certainly what pushes people to find motivation in the things they create, to carry out their work with more enthusiasm and passion.

And there can be no customer satisfaction without corresponding employee satisfaction. And to attract the best talent, the quality of life in the company is an important lever.

Irony, humor, are a kind of energy that, in different ways and quantities, we all possess, a positive boost that stimulates creativity and good humor, even if in everyday reality this push is often repressed, contained. These values find more welcoming citizenship in an innovative and original place, where creativity, imagination, innovation, curiosity develop.

There is only one limit: moderation, mutual respect.


Aldo Delli Paoli
Aldo Delli Paoli
Aldo is a lawyer and teacher of law & Economic Sciences, "lent" to the finance world. He has worked, in fact, 35 years long for a multinational company of financial service in the auto sector, where he held various roles, until that of CEO. In the corporate field, he has acquired skills and held positions as Credit Manager, Human Resource Manager, Team leader for projects of Acquisition & Merger, branch opening, company restructuring, outplacement, legal compliance, analysis and innovation of organizational processes, business partnerships, relations with Trade Unions and Financial Control Institutions. After leaving the company, he continued as an external member of the Board of Directors e, at the same time, he has gone back practicing law and was a management consultant for various companies. He has been also a columnist for newspapers specializing in labor law, automotive services and work organization. His interests include human behavior in the organizational environment, to the neuroscience, the impact of new technologies, the fate of the planet and people facing poverty or war scenarios. He loves traveling, reading, is passionate about many sports, follows the NBA and practices tennis.

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  1. Interesting, as always; I truly appreciate the finesse so widely evident in all your writing, Dear Aldo Sir! This article is no exception. Not only that, but it also brought me back to something I wrote earlier: The late 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”

    Thank You, With Warm Regards, and A Prayer For All

    • On several occasions it seemed useful to me to create a relaxed atmosphere. For example, to minimize tensions and favor light and constructive feed back to and from collaborators
      Thanks Darlene for the contribution of your experience and knowledge.
      I’m just a fan of work and organizational psychology, not a specialist like you, so your contribution is particularly appreciated.
      See you next time and take care of yourself with this virus that is doing so much damage.