Science Nuggets

Our vision is to build bridges between research and practice. One of these bridges is our Science Nuggets format. With these small "research nuggets", we present findings from our research projects in such a way that they are easy to understand and also make direct reference to possible applications in practice.

The Interplay of Humor and Psychological Safety at Work

PD Dr. Thomas Bachmann

Prior studies have identified psychological safety as one of the central building blocks of successful teamwork, which naturally leads to the question of how to establish it in teams. One potential antecedent of psychological safety that is widely overlooked in the literature is humor. Team psychological safety is defined as a climate in which all team members feel safe to take interpersonal risks, while humor, or more specifically, the attempt to be humorous, can be seen as a form of interpersonal risk-taking.


Applying a multi-methodical approach consisting of self-report questionnaires and observation of cues for applied humor, 36 real shared-leadership teams (N = 201 team members) were examined in a virtual setting. Results show that the more benign humor teams produced (humor about own team, humor about the task/context, and unrelated jokes), the higher they perceived their team’s psychological safety. On the other hand, teams that produced high amounts of aggressive humor (humor targeting team members or self-defeating jokes) reported lower levels of psychological safety. These findings suggest that the use of humor by team members should be added to the list of established antecedents of team psychological safety and that humor indeed is an important factor for work climate which needs to be further investigated.

Takeaways from our consultants

This study introduces the use of benign humor as means to create a climate of psychological safety in teams. Also, it shows that humor targeted at team members (aggressive humor) can make the team feel less safe.

  • Team members and leading roles should learn how to distinguish between benign and aggressive humor.
  • • Team members and leading roles should be aware that their choice of target when joking substantially impacts their team climate. They should try to aim their humor at the entire team, the things they’re working on together, or topics unrelated to their work (use benign humor).
  • • The role of humor and the emergence of psychological safety in teams should also be the subject of leadership training.

This is the summary of a master thesis written in cooperation with artop:
Köhler, R. (submitted on 13 October 2022) How Benign and Aggressive Humor Predict Psychological Safety in Teams. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin under supervision of PD Dr. Thomas Bachmann and Prof. Dr. Christine Gockel. Research design and data collection supervised by Katherina Q.

Fields of Research

We walk our talk. We also conduct our own research on many of the issues that concern us in our consulting activities.

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