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Why we need to laugh at work

WHEN BARTLEBY reflects on life’s lessons, he always remembers his grandfather’s last words: “A truck!” Bartleby’s uncle also suffered an early demise, falling into a vat of polish at the furniture factory. It was a terrible end but a lovely finish.

Whether you find such stories amusing will depend on taste and whether you have heard them before. But a sense of humour is, by and large, a useful thing to have in life. A study of undergraduates found that those with a strong sense of humour experienced less stress and anxiety than those without it.

Humour can be a particular source of comfort at work, where sometimes it can be the only healthy reaction to setbacks or irrational commands from the boss. Classic examples can be found in both the British and American versions of the TV sitcom “The Office”, where workers have to deal with eccentric, egotistical managers, played respectively by Ricky Gervais and Steve Carell. The comedy stems, in part, from the way that the office hierarchy requires the employees to put up with the appalling behaviour of the manager.

And those programmes also illustrate the double-edged nature of workplace humour. When the bosses try to make a joke, they are often crass and insensitive, making the situation excruciating for everyone else (these are shows best watched through the fingers...

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