Laughing with me or laughing at me? The differential effects of leader humor expressions on follower status and influence at work

Joel B. Carnevale, Lei Huang, Kai Chi Yam, Lin Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Organizational Behavior
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Keywords

  • affiliative humor
  • aggressive humor
  • approach and avoidance
  • constructive voice
  • work engagement
  • workplace status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Psychology(all)
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

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