A light joke helps everybody

June 9, 2024

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A light joke helps everybody

A humorous remark at just the right time can go a long way. Benevolent humour helps medical assistants (MAs) cope positively with their stressful working day, according to a new German study. The researchers surveyed more than 600 MAs to find out how they experience their work and what style of humor they use in their daily working lives. They found that if the respondents preferred light, well-intended humor, they were more satisfied with their work and received more positive feedback. Dark humor, such as sarcasm, was more likely to have disadvantages. The study was published in the journal BMC Primary Care.

Medical assistants mostly work in primary health care, especially medical practices. In Germany, working as an MA requires a three-year vocational training. The daily work routine of MAs can be very demanding. They are responsible for administrative work and, for example, taking blood samples and applying wound dressings.

What the researchers say: "Medical assistants are in very close contact with patients for most of the day. They have a lot of responsibility and experience a lot of stress," the lead author said. “It has long been known that humor can help healthcare workers cope with stress. However, little is known about the consequences of different humor styles. We set out to investigate those, as it should make a big difference, whether MAs use puns or sarcasm when dealing with patients. Talking to people that are potentially sick requires a lot of empathy and verbal dexterity."

The researchers conducted an online survey of more than 600 MAs. The aim was to understand better the relationship between job satisfaction and different humor styles. In addition to the kind of humor they prefer, respondents also provided information about their well-being in the workplace and how competent they feel at work.

If the respondents preferred positive and benevolent humor, they were more satisfied with their work.

But not only that: "MAs with a preference for light humor stated that they received more positive feedback and were more likely to feel that they were making a difference at work," the lead author said. Surprisingly, negative or dark humor did not score worse across the board. "Even though satire and irony are considered dark humor, we found no negative correlation with the respondents’ well-being," she added. In contrast, cynicism and especially sarcasm had negative effects.

According to the researchers, humor is one of several factors that influence well-being at work. "Knowing about the effects of humor and different styles can help to make conversations with patients more pleasant. That said, waiting rooms are not supposed to become comedy clubs. It’s more about using humor consciously and appropriately," the researchers stressed.

So, what? There has been a lot of research showing that humor is beneficial in any workplace. Previous studies have shown that humans are designed to have fun at work and to be able to joke with those that they work with. Fun, satisfaction and productivity go hand in hand no matter what kind of work is being performed.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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