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Hard hats and humour: How laughter builds success in construction management

Bond University Professor of Management Ahmad Siddiquei.

Want to hear a joke about construction? I’m still working on it – but project managers should have their gag at the ready according to a new study examining the use of humour on building sites.

The research led by Bond University Professor of Management Ahmad Siddiquei found project managers with a good sense of humour are more likely to inspire workers to achieve creative goals.

The findings come from a survey of 165 workers in 45 construction teams in China where employees face tight schedules, high stress, safety concerns, and poor work-life balance.  

Dr Siddiquei said the country is home to the world’s largest construction industry, valued at US$1049 billion and growing at 5 percent annually.

“It’s also a sector that contributed 25.7 percent to the country’s GDP in 2021 alone and it’s a place where innovation is not just a buzzword, but a necessity to navigate the challenges of rapid urbanisation,” he said.

“The research reveals the delicate balance project managers must strike between meeting deadlines and fostering an atmosphere where creative risks and radical ideas are welcome.  

“It argues that a leader’s sense of humour is a social cue, encouraging workers to think outside the box without fearing consequences.  

“The findings are clear – humour in construction is more than just a punchline; it is a catalyst for creativity.”

Dr Siddiquei said in an industry known for its challenges - including bullying, skilled labour shortages and environmental concerns - humour was as a powerful tool.   
“Leaders are urged to embrace a good laugh and cultivate strong interpersonal skills to inspire their teams,” he said.  

“While laughter is sometimes viewed as disruptive or even threatening on construction sites, the research suggests that it can positively reduce conflict and improve decision-making during project team meetings,” he said.  

The study’s three key takeaways for the construction industry: project managers should embrace humour; leaders need strong interpersonal skills; and workplaces should foster an environment that welcomes bold ideas and open communication.  

Additionally, humour is identified as a nurturing force for psychological safety, allowing workers to discuss problems and express opinions freely.  

The research by Dr Siddiquei, of the Bond Business School, also challenges the traditional stoicism associated with construction projects and advocates for a lighter approach.

“Humour is a vital skill for anyone who wants to grab attention and convey profound or complicated ideas,” he said.  
“So, next time you are on a construction site, don’t forget to share a joke; it might just be the key to unlocking innovation and success,” he said.

For the full research paper, click here.

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