Give me a break: Laughing with colleagues guards against ego depletion


break laughter
time pressure
affective irritation
mood spillover
ego depletion

How to Cite

Scheel, T. E., Putz, D., & Kurzawa, C. (2017). Give me a break: Laughing with colleagues guards against ego depletion. The European Journal of Humour Research, 5(1), 36–51.


Job demands, like time pressure, consume employees’ limited resources, which need to be restored through recovery in order to maintain psychological well-being and work performance. Employees in high-strain jobs need to replenish their emotional resources throughout the work day. This can take place during breaks if employees are able to psychologically detach from the work demands. Given the stress-relieving functions of humour, we hypothesised that affiliative humour during breaks would attenuate affective impairments related to time pressure and would decrease negative emotional spillover from breaks to subsequent work. We conducted moderated mediation analyses with bootstrapping based on a cross-sectional sample of 170 employees working at four retail stores. Time pressure was positively related to affective irritation, which in turn was related to more spillover of negative (and less spillover of positive) mood from breaks to work. Laughing with colleagues during breaks moderated the link between time pressure and affective irritation, such that this relation became nonsignificant when the frequency of joint laughter during breaks increased. Hence, pleasurable social break activities appear to be important for within-workday recovery. Employers should encourage their employees to take their breaks consistently and to socialise with likable colleagues, especially during periods of high work load.


Banas, J. A., Dunbar, N., Rodriguez D. & Liu. S.- J. (2011). ‘A review of humor in educational settings: Four decades of research’. Communication Education 60, pp. 115–144. doi:10.1080/03634523.2010.496867.

Berk, L. S., Felten D. L., Tan S. A., Bittman B. B. & Westengard J. (2001). ‘Modulation of neuroimmune parameters during the eustress of humor-associated mirthful laughter’. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 7 (2), pp. 62–76.

Bizi, S., Keinan G. & Beit-Hallahmi B. (1988). ‘Humor and coping with stress: A test under real-life conditions’. Personality and Individual Differences 9 (6), pp. 951–956.

Brotheridge, C. M., & Grandey, A. A. (2002). ‘Emotional labor and burnout: Comparing two perspectives of “people work”’. Journal of Vocational Behavior 60, pp. 17–39. doi:10.1006/jvbe.2001.1815.

Chan, D. (2009). ‘So why ask me? Are self-report data really that bad?’, in Lance, C. E. & Vandenberg, R. J. (eds.), Statistical and Methodological Myths and Urban Legends, New York: Routledge, pp. 309-336.

De Jonge, J. & Dormann, C. (2006). ‘Stressors, resources and strains at work: A longitudinal test of the Triple Match Principle’. Journal of Applied Psychology 91 (6), pp. 1359-1374.

De Jonge, J., Spoor, E., Sonnentag, S., Dormann, C. & van den Tooren, M. (2012). ‘“Take a break?!”Off-job recovery, job demands, and job resources as predictors of health, active learning, and creativity’. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 21, pp. 321–348. doi:10.1080/1359432X.2011.576009

DeLongis, A., Folkman, S. & Lazarus, R. S. (1988). ‘The impact of daily stress on health and mood: Psychological and social resources as mediators’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 54 (3), pp. 486-495.

Fritz, C. & Sonnentag, S. (2005). ‘Recovery, health, and job performance: Effects of weekend experiences’. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 10 (3), pp. 187-199.

Fritz, C. & Sonnentag, S. (2006). ‘Recovery, well-being, and performance-related outcomes: The role of work load and vacation experiences’. Journal of Applied Psychology 91 (4), pp. 936-945.

Hayes, A. F. (2015). ‘The PROCESS makro for SPSS and SAS’. Available online: [Accessed on 26 January 2015].

Hochschild, A.R. (1979). ‘Emotion work, feeling rules, and social structure’. American Journal of Sociology 85 (3), pp. 551-575.

Holmes, J. & Marra, M. (2002). ‘Having a laugh at work: How humour contributes to workplace culture’. Journal of Pragmatics, 34, 1683–1710.

Ilies, R., Wilson, K. S. & Wagner, D. T. (2009). ‘The spillover of daily job satisfaction onto employees’ family lives: The facilitating role of work-family integration’. Academy of Management Journal 52 (1), pp. 87–102.

Jones, G. R. (1986). ‘Socialization tactics, self-efficacy, and newcomers' adjustments to organizations’. The Academy of Management Journal 29 (2), pp. 262-279.

Kleiner, S. (2014). ‘Subjective time pressure: General or domain specific?’. Social Science Research 47, pp. 108–120. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2014.03.013

Krajewski, J., Wieland, R. & Sauerland, M. (2010). ‘Regulating strain states by using the recovery potential of lunch breaks’. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 15, pp. 131–139. doi:10.1037/a0018830

Kühnel, J., Sonnentag, S. & Bledow, R. (2012). ‘Resources and time pressure as day-level antecedents of work engagement: Day-level JD-R model’. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 85, pp. 181–198. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8325.2011.02022.x

Kuiper, N. A., & Martin, R. A. (1998). ‘Laughter and stress in daily life: Relation to positive and negative affect’. Motivation and Emotion 22 (2), pp. 133–153.

Lance, C. E. & Siminovsky, A. B. (2014). ‘Use of “independent” measures does not solve the shared method bias problem’, in Lance, C. E. & Vandenberg, R. J. (eds.), More Statistical and Methodological Myths and Urban Legends, New York: Routledge, pp. 276-291.

Martin, R. A. (2007). The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach. Burlington, MA: Elsevier.

Martin, R. A., Kuiper, N. A., Olinger, L. J. & Dance, K. A. (1993). ‘Humor, coping with stress, self-concept, and psychological well-being’. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 6 (1), pp. 89–104.

Martin, R. A. & Lefcourt, H. M. (1983). ‘Sense of humor as a moderator of the relation between stressors and moods’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 45 (6), pp. 1313-1324.

Martin, R. A., Puhlik-Doris, P., Larsen, G., Gray, J. & Weir, K. (2003). ‘Individual differences in uses of humor and their relation to psychological well-being: Development of the Humor Styles Questionnaire’. Journal of Research in Personality 37(1), pp. 48–75.

Martineau, W. H. (1972). ‘A model of the social functions of humor’. in Goldstein, J. & McGhee, P. E. (eds.), The Psychology of Humor, New York: Academic Press, pp. 101–125.

Meijman, T. F. & Mulder, G. (1998). ‘Psychological aspects of workload’, in Drenth, P. J. D., Thierry, H. & de Wolff, C. J. (eds.), Handbook of Work and Organizational Psychology (Volume 2: Work Psychology), Hove, UK: Psychology Press, pp. 5-33.

Mesmer-Magnus, J., Glew, D. J. & Viswesvaran, C. (2012). ‘A meta-analysis of positive humor in the workplace’. Journal of Managerial Psychology 27, pp. 155–190. doi:10.1108/02683941211199554

Mohr, G., Müller, A., Rigotti, T., Aycan, Z. & Tschan, F. (2006). ‘The assessment of psychological strain in work contexts’. European Journal of Psychological Assessment 22, pp. 198–206. doi:10.1027/1015-5759.22.3.198

Muraven, M. & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). ‘Self-regulation and depletion of limited resources: Does self-control resemble a muscle?’. Psychological Bulletin 126 (2), pp. 247.

Navarro, J., del Moral, R., Alonso, M. F., Loste, P., Garcia-Campayo, J., Lahoz-Beltra, R. & Marijuán, P. C. (2014). ‘Validation of laughter for diagnosis and evaluation of depression’. Journal of Affective Disorders 160, pp. 43–49. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2014.02.035

Newman, M. G. & Stone, A. A. (1996). ‘Does humor moderate the effects of experimentally-induced stress?’ Annals of Behavioral Medicine 18 (2), pp. 101–109.

Nezu, A. M., Nezu, C. M. & Blissett, S. E. (1988). ‘Sense of humor as a moderator of the relation between stressful events and psychological distress: A prospective analysis’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 54 (3), pp. 520-525

Porterfield, A. L. (1987). ‘Does sense of humor moderate the impact of life stress on psycho-logical and physical well-being?’. Journal of Research in Personality 21 (3), pp. 306–317.

Preacher, K. J., Rucker, D. D. & Hayes, A. F. (2007). ‘Assessing moderated mediation

hypotheses: Theory, method, and prescriptions’. Multivariate Behavioral Research 42, pp. 185–227.

Robert, C. & Wilbanks, J. E. (2012). ‘The Wheel Model of humor: Humor events and affect in organizations’. Human Relations 65, pp. 1071–1099. doi:10.1177/0018726711433133

Romero, E. J. & Cruthirds, K. W. (2006). ‘The use of humor in the workplace’. The Academy of Management Perspectives 20 (2), pp. 58–69.

Roskes, M., Elliot, A. J., Nijstad, B. A. & De Dreu, C. K. (2013). 'Time pressure undermines performance more under avoidance than approach motivation’. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 39 (6), pp. 803–813.

Semmer, N. K., Zapf, D. & Dunckel, H. (1999). ‘Instrument zur Stressbezogenen Tätigkeitsanalyse (ISTA) [Instrument for stress-related job analysis (ISTA)]’, in Dunckel, H. (ed.), Handbuch psychologischer Arbeitsanalyseverfahren, Zürich: vdf Hochschulverlag, pp. 179-204.

Sliter, M., Kale, A. & Yuan, Z. (2014). ‘Is humor the best medicine? The buffering effect of coping humor on traumatic stressors in firefighters’. Journal of Organizational Behavior 35, pp. 257–272. doi:10.1002/job.1868

Sonnentag, S. & Bayer, U.-V. (2005). ‘Switching off mentally: Predictors and consequences of psychological detachment from work during off-job time’. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 10 (4), pp. 393-414.

Sonnentag, S. & Zijlstra, F. R. H. (2006). ‘Job characteristics and off-job activities as predictors of need for recovery, well-being and fatigue’. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91 (2), pp. 330-350.

Syrek, C. J. & Antoni, C. H. (2014). ‘Unfinished tasks foster rumination and impair sleeping – Particularly if leaders have high performance expectations’. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 19 (4), pp. 490-499.

Trougakos, J. P. & Hideg, I. (2009). ‘Momentary work recovery: The role of within-day work breaks’ in Sonnentag, S., Perrewé, P. L. & Ganster, D. C. (eds.), Current Perspectives on Job-Stress Recovery (Research in Occupational Stress and Well-Being, Volume 7), Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing, pp.37 – 84.

Trougakos, J. P., Hideg, I., Cheng, B. H. & Beal, D. J. (2014). ‘Lunch breaks unpacked: The role of autonomy as a moderator of recovery during lunch’. Academy of Management Journal 57, pp. 405–421. doi:10.5465/amj.2011.1072

White, S. & Winzelberg, A. (1992). ‘Laughter and stress’. Humor 5 (4), pp. 343–355.

Williams, K. J., & Alliger, G. M. (1994). ‘Role stressors, mood spillover, and perceptions of work-family conflict in employed parents’. Academy of Management Journal 37, pp. 837–868. doi:10.2307/256602

Wood, R. E., Beckmann, N. & Rossiter, J. R. (2011). ‘Management humor: Asset or liability?’ Organizational Psychology Review 1, pp. 316–338. doi:10.1177/2041386611418393

Zapf, D., Vogt, C., Seifert, C., Mertini, H. & Isic, A. (1999). ‘Emotion work as a source of stress: The concept and development of an instrument’. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 8, pp. 371–400. doi:10.1080/135943299398230

All authors agree to an Attribution Non-Commercial Non Derivative Creative Commons License on their work.


Download data is not yet available.