Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

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Professor René Proyer
Institute of Psychology
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Julia Raecke
Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training
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New study sheds light on the effects of humour in medical practices

A light joke doesn’t hurt anybody

Nummer 074/2024 vom 03. Juni 2024
A humorous remark at just the right time can go a long way. Benevolent humour helps medical assistants (MAs) cope positively with their stressful working day, according to a new study by the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) and the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB). The researchers surveyed more than 600 MAs to find out how they experience their work and what style of humour they use in their daily working lives. They found that if the respondents preferred light, well-intended humour, they were more satisfied with their work and received more positive feedback. Dark humour, such as sarcasm, was more likely to have disadvantages. The study was recently published in the journal "BMC Primary Care".

Medical assistants mostly work in primary health care, especially medical practices. In Germany, working as an MA requires a three-year vocational training. The daily work routine of MAs can be very demanding. They are responsible for administrative work and, for example, taking blood samples and applying wound dressings. "Medical assistants are in very close contact with patients for most of the day. They have a lot of responsibility and experience a lot of stress," says Julia Raecke from BIBB, who is doing her doctorate at MLU. It has long been known that humour can help healthcare workers cope with stress. "However, little is known about the consequences of different humour styles. We set out to investigate those, as it should make a big difference, whether MAs use puns or sarcasm when dealing with patients. Talking to people that are potentially sick requires a lot of empathy and verbal dexterity," explains Professor René Proyer, a psychologist at MLU. 

The two researchers conducted an online survey of more than 600 MAs. The aim was to understand better the relationship between job satisfaction and different humour styles. In addition to the kind of humour they prefer, respondents also provided information about their well-being in the workplace and how competent they feel at work. 

If the respondents preferred positive and benevolent humour, they were in general also more satisfied with their work. But not only that: "MAs with a preference for light humour stated that they received more positive feedback and were more likely to feel that they were making a difference at work," says Julia Raecke. Surprisingly, presumably negative or dark humour did not score worse across the board. "Even though satire and irony are considered dark humour, we found no negative correlation with the respondents’ well-being," adds Raecke. In contrast, cynicism and especially sarcasm had negative effects. Yet, this does not mean that sarcasm should be condemned completely. "A short sarcastic remark among colleagues might help to release frustration," says René Proyer. 

According to the researchers, humour is one of several factors that influence well-being at work. "Knowing about the effects of humour and different styles can help to make conversations with patients more pleasant. That said, waiting rooms are not supposed to become comedy clubs. It’s more about using humour consciously and appropriately," concludes Proyer.

The results of the study could help to develop new training programmes. For example, Raecke is investigating whether the social and emotional skills of MAs can be improved with the help of online training.

The study was funded by the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training.

Study: Raecke J. & Proyer R.T. Medical assistants’ comic styles and their potential for positive functioning at work: a cross-sectional study including a subgroup analysis. BMC Primary Care (2024). doi: 10.1186/s12875-024-02363-y


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