Crossing the line: boundaries of workplace humour and fun

Barbara Plester (The University of Auckland Business School, Auckland, New Zealand)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Publication date: 2 October 2009



This paper aims to present exploratory, empirical data from an ethnographic study into workplace humour and fun. It explores the notion that workplace humour and fun are influenced by the creation of boundaries that either enable or constrain activities.


Qualitative data were gathered from four New Zealand companies within different industries. Mixed methods were used and included semi‐structured interviews, participant observation and document collection.


The findings suggest that organisational culture is influential in boundary creation. In three formal companies, boundaries for humour and fun activities were narrower, and this constrained humour activities. In an informal company, wider boundaries resulted in humour activities that were unrestrained which created an unusual and idiosyncratic company identity.

Research limitations/implications

It would be useful to replicate this exploratory research in different workplace sectors and environments.


Boundaries constructed through social processes are assuming greater importance in modern organisations. However, research has not investigated boundaries around workplace humour and fun. Understanding boundaries may assist work groups when creating (and promoting) fun. This original research considers both managerial and employee concerns, and findings extend theory on workplace fun and humour.



Plester, B. (2009), "Crossing the line: boundaries of workplace humour and fun", Employee Relations, Vol. 31 No. 6, pp. 584-599.

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Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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