This post is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center. 


The ability to humorously interact with others at work is often considered an essential skill for organizational leaders. In general terms, humor refers to an individual’s tendency to amuse others through the use or display of behaviors, attitudes, and abilities. Although a large percentage of studies have conceptualized humor as a positive phenomenon, humor can also have negative consequences and be seen as disrespectful or annoying. Two well-known humor styles are affiliative humor and aggressive humor. Individuals who score high on affiliative humor will often tell jokes and say funny stories, amuse others, and enjoy laughing along with others to facilitate interpersonal relationships in a relatively benign and self-accepting manner. Users of aggressive humor utilize sarcasm, irony, teasing, ridicule, and derisive humor. They have a tendency to use humor to put down or manipulate others, and exhibit a compulsive expression of humor even when inappropriate. The author of the current study examined the relationship between supervisor humor style, supervisor authenticity, employee-organization relationships (EORs), and employee advocacy behavior (i.e., the promotion or defense of an organization, its products, or its services by an employee). The data was collected through an online survey and sampled 350 employees who had no subordinates and worked in medium and large corporations in the United States.

As expected, the study’s results showed that while affiliative humor was positively related to employee advocacy, aggressive humor was negatively related to employee advocacy. The findings also indicated that the relationship between humor style and employee advocacy was fully mediated by supervisor authenticity and EORs. Thus, humor styles have an effect on the perceptions employees have on their supervisors’ levels of authenticity. On the one hand, an affiliative humor style has a positive impact on perceived supervisor authenticity; on the other hand, an aggressive humor style has a negative impact on perceptions of supervisor authenticity. The study also found that communication authenticity is strongly and positively associated with the quality of EORs. At the same time, the results showed that the quality of EORs is positively associated with employee advocacy. When quality relationships are developed between organizations and their publics, the likelihood of generating supportive behaviors increases.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should (1) educate leaders on the damaging effects of utilizing humor that ridicules or derides others, (2) encourage leaders that enjoy using humor and telling funny stories to do it in a benign manner that brings people together, facilitates interpersonal relationships, and is affirming of self and others, and (3) be aware that developing quality relationships with employees increases their likelihood to engage in supportive behaviors.

Patrick Thelen is a Ph.D. student and graduate assistant at the University of Florida. His research interests include reputation/relationship management, employee engagement and public relations ethics. He began his professional career as a reporter and later transitioned to corporate communications where he provided communications consultancy and worked for the multinational PR firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies. Thelen earned his Master of Arts in Strategic Public Relations at the University of Southern California in 2013.

Location of Article

This article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

Thelen, P. D. (2019). Supervisor humor styles and employee advocacy: A serial mediation model. Public Relations Review. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2019.02.007

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
Follow on Twitter

Leave a Reply