Dr Rob Yeung is an organisational psychologist at leadership consulting firm Talentspace


Humour at work

The people we encounter obviously judge us on our knowledge, intelligence and what we do for them. However, they also form impressions of us based on many other factors including our body language and the clothes we wear. Recent research suggests that people also make judgments about our use of humour, with important consequences for the extent to which clients, colleagues, and prospective employers may wish to work with us.

Business school academics Bradford Bitterly and Maurice Schweitzer have run multiple studies looking at the effects of humour in business situations. In general, they have found that the successful use of humour (ie telling a joke or making a comment that others feel is both amusing and appropriate) boosts perceptions of both warmth and competence. In other words, if you use humour well, others may not only like you more but also see you as more intelligent and better at your job.

In a further study, the researchers also observed that individuals who used humour successfully are more likely to be chosen as the group leader for a subsequent task. Clearly, humour is not just something trivial but can be a powerful tool for making a positive impression and gaining influence in the workplace.

Using incentives

What incentives or methods do managers within your organisation use to motivate the performance of employees? New research suggests that people are likely to respond very differently to incentives based on their personality traits.

Researcher Xisui Shirley Chen and colleagues recently looked at data from a clinical study helping 602 overweight and obese adults to lose weight via a competition-based strategy. The participants were allocated to groups of three; they were emailed a leader board of their weekly exercise activity to promote a sense of competitiveness.

After 24 weeks, the researchers found that the participants who most increased their activity tended to differ in various ways. Those most motivated by competition were significantly more extroverted; they were also usually more emotionally stable, ie less prone to anxiety and changes of mood. However, these same participants were less likely to stay active after the competition ended.

That only certain kinds of people are motivated by competition-based strategies should not be surprising. But the implication is that broad incentives and performance management techniques are unlikely to be uniformly effective for all employees. Instead, managers need to tailor their use of incentives and other methods in order to bring out the best from individual employees.