Author Information : Joel B. Carnevale, Martin J. Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University
Lei Huang, Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, Auburn University
Kai Chi Yam, Department of Management and Organization, National University of Singapore
Lin Wang, School of Business, Sun Yat-Sen University
Year of Publication : Journal of Organizational Behavior, 2022
Summary of Findings : Depending on the style of humor leaders are using, they can either enhance or suppress their followers' status and influence at work
Research Questions : Can leaders' use of humor effect their followers' workplace status?
How will followers react to their enhanced (or reduced) status?
What we know : We know that humor can inform status hierarchies. Research has shown that a leader's use of humor can de-emphasize hierarchical relationships between themselves and their subordinates. We also know that leaders use of humor can influence their own status and influence at work.
Novel Findings : Our findings show that leader’s use of humor also influences their followers’ acquisition of status and influence at work. We show that leader humor can either alienate or involve followers, which can inform opportunities for their status attainment.
On the one hand, we show that when leaders use an affiliative style of humor (one that involves playfulness and relational connection), their subordinates experience more active agency at work, which ultimately enhances their workplace status. As a result, they are likely to become more engaged in their role and advocate for changes that could improve the work-unit.
On the other hand, when leaders use an aggressive style of humor (one that involves teasing and sarcasm), their subordinates become more inhibited at work, which ultimately suppresses their workplace status. As a result, they are less likely to become more engaged in their role and less willing to advocate for changes that could improve the work-unit.
Implications for Practice : The Differential Effects of Leader Humor Expressions on Follower Status and Influence at Work In this respect, organizations should inform managers of the benefits of affiliative styles of humor (e.g., increased influence for themselves and their subordinates), as well as the detriments of aggressive styles. Organizations can also incorporate affiliative humor as a communication strategy into leadership training courses.
Full Citations : Carnevale, J. B., Huang, L., Yam, K. C., & Wang, L. (2022). Laughing with Me or Laughing at Me? The Differential Effects of Leader Humor Expressions on Follower Status and Influence at Work. Journal of Organizational Behavior.
Abstract : Although research suggests that leader humor shapes followers' perceptions of their leaders' status, questions remain as to whether and how leader humor can shape followers' own acquisition of status at work. Drawing from the approach-avoidance framework, we provide an important extension to the leader humor literature by developing a serial mediation model that explains how and why two styles of leader humor—aggressive humor and affiliative humor—differentially impact followers' ability to garner and wield social influence in the work environment. We theorize that leader aggressive humor, which constitutes unconstrained execution of power that is invasive and hostile in nature, produces a status-suppressing effect by activating followers' avoidance system, whereas leader affiliative humor, which constitutes relational connection with restrained superiority, produces a status-enabling effect by activating followers' approach system. We further propose that leader aggressive (affiliative) humor has a negative (positive) indirect effect on followers' constructive voice and work engagement via their avoidance (approach) orientation and workplace status. We find consistent support for our hypothesized predictions across two survey studies. We discuss theoretical and practical implications of this study.
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