Stressed to absurdity at work? 10 jokes to break the tension.

Situation Comedy Collage Illustration

By Patricia Bouweraerts, Editor

OK, so it’s been a really long day at the end of a grueling week working extra hours on complex problems with competing priorities and too many colleagues defending their territories — it’s natural to wonder if you need to laugh or cry.

Late in the evening a few years ago, a very intelligent, kind and shy co-worker delivered a one-liner out of the blue that almost brought me to tears laughing at our situations.

“My retirement plan is to die at my desk,” said Phillip Sublett, editor of Secret Agent Magazine.

Kare Anderson, a contributor to, remembered a similar time when a co-worker broke the tension of a difficult math problem and made her laugh.

“Numbers are not my strong suit,” she wrote. “After I had added up a budget on a hand calculator and come up with three different totals, my business partner once quipped, ‘There are three kinds of people: those who can count, and those who can’t.’”

Humor can diffuse pressure, bring people closer, and may even illuminate the whole picture, snapping us from the tendency to narrowly focus on all of the individual thorny and bedeviling pieces.

Ten jokes on work topics are presented here in categories such as laughing at yourself, busy seasons, co-workers’ shared experiences, and our common humanity. They poke good-natured fun at the bewildering obstacles blighting those unrelenting weeks that can happen to the best of us.

#1 and #2: Laughing at yourself

“When one makes oneself the butt of the joke one demonstrates unifying humor,” Anderson wrote. “Self-deprecating people build trust, get heard and get ahead.”

Jerry Seinfeld laughs at his own teenage work ethic in the book, “SeinLanguage.”

“Parents make the best employers,” he wrote. “Because no matter how bad a job you do they’re stuck with you.

I used to mow the lawn for five bucks on the weekend. I was the worst. Sometimes I wouldn’t even turn the mower on. I’d just make the lines with the wheels and say I was done. And there was nothing they could do. My father couldn’t go, ‘Listen son, you’re not really cutting the mustard out there on that lawn. Now I know you’ve been in the family for about 15 years, but I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go. Don’t feel too bad about it. We’re making cutbacks all over the house. The dog’s only coming in three days a week.’”

2000 Postal Stamp Picturing Seinfeld Show

“Seinfeld” TV show stamp, via, editorial image by Olga Popova.

Reno comedian David Mencarelli posted the following one-liner on his Instagram site.

“I’m gonna open a business that specializes in fighting with its customers,” he said. “Walk-ins will not be welcome, but run-ins will.”

#3 and #4: Spoof superiors rather than kid those who report to you

“If you make a bulls-eye out of someone weaker, particularly if you initiate the attack, you look like a bully,” Anderson wrote. “Take aim, instead, at the powerful.”

Sharing a funny story about human mistakes that managers make may break up a tense situation.

A magazine recently (about 2004) ran a “Dilbert Quotes” contest. They were looking for people to submit quotes from their real-life Dilbert-type managers,” according to

These three were among those voted in the top ten:

“As of tomorrow, employees will only be able to access the building using individual security cards. Pictures will be taken next Wednesday, and employees will receive their cards in two weeks.” Winning quote sent by Fred Dales, Microsoft, Redmond, Wash.

“No one will believe you solved this problem in one day! We’ve been working on it for months. Now go act busy for a few weeks and I’ll let you know when it’s time to tell them.” Quote from a research and development supervisor, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co., now 3M.

“My sister passed away and her funeral was scheduled for Monday. When I told my boss, he said she died on purpose so that I would have to miss work on the busiest day of the year. He then asked if we could change her burial to Friday. He said, ‘That would be better for me.’” Quote sent by a shipping executive, FTD Companies, Inc.

A joke about a skipper and his crewman is published in the “The Reader’s Digest Treasury of American Humor:

“The captain of a ship once wrote in his log, ’Mate was drunk today.’ When the mate became normal, he was terribly chagrined and angry; he pleaded with the captain to strike out the record; he declared that he had never been drunk before, that he would never drink again. But the captain said, ‘In this log we write the exact truth.’

The next week the mate kept the log, and in it he wrote, ‘Captain was sober today.’”

#5: Laughing at the busy season

There is a busy time in most occupations, whether it’s the holiday season for people working in retail, the end of the school year for teachers, or summer for the construction industry. Here is a funny piece from

“Ten signs you are ‘burned out’ because of work
• Your garbage can is your ‘in’ box.
• You sleep more at work than at home.
• Your Day Timer exploded a week ago.
• You’re so tired you now answer the phone, ‘Hell.’
• You leave for a party and instinctively take your ID badge.
• You have so much on your mind, you’ve forgotten how to pee.
• Visions of the upcoming weekend help you make it through Monday.
• You think about how relaxing it would be if you were in jail right now.
• You wake up to discover your bed is on fire, but go back to sleep because you just don’t care.
• Your friend calls to ask how you’ve been, and you immediately scream, ‘Get off my back, jerk!’”

#6 and #7: Laugh at a common situation in your workplace

(Warning: there is mature content later in this section.)

“Hearing what’s funny in a group also enables one to instantly understand what isn’t safe to laugh at,” Anderson wrote. “When your humor highlights what we have in common, you and I feel more like ‘us.’ Joking with co-workers builds bonds.”

Common unifying workplace circumstances may be the wheelbarrow-full of emails received every day, the printer that always breaks down, or even the annoying calls from scammers pretending to be the Internal Revenue Service threatening an arrest warrant. Or, perhaps it’s the obscure terminology typically used in one’s field.

The “The Reader’s Digest Treasury of American Humor,” includes a joke about mysterious terms used by a highway department and in the military, and what the labels really mean:

“One Congressman gave the Gobbledygook Award to the Bureau of Public Roads, which in a recent report used the term ‘impact attenuation devices.’ These turned out to be old oil drums used to block off highway construction projects. The runner-up for the Congressman’s salute went to the Air Force, which recently used ‘aerodynamic personnel decelerator.’ The Air Force was trying to say ‘parachute.’ And honorable mention went to the Defense Department, which once used the term ‘combat emplacement evacuator,’ which, in layman’s terms, is a shovel.”

"Welcome Back, Kotter" TV Show Publicity Photo

“Welcome Back, Kotter” TV show publicity photo by ABC Television (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons.

And what about undecipherable acronyms and initialisms?

This funny email spoof was posted by

“To: ALL staff
From: Office of Superintendant
Re: ‘Teacher Inservice Training’ schedule (TITS)

In accordance with recent changes in the State Education Law, our district is now required to supply bigger and better TITS for each employee.

We are therefore, pleased to announce the implementation of the Special High Intensity Training program (SHIT). It is our intention to give each member of the staff as much SHIT as possible. Advancement, salary increases and job changes will be dependent on the amount of SHIT you have taken.

Employees who feel they have taken as much SHIT as they can may apply to the School Council for Review of Educational Welfare (SCREW). All employees are expected to be SCREW’d at least annually.

If you have taken SHIT and have been SCREW’d within the past academic year, you will be eligible to receive a Self Help Award for Teachers (SHAFT). Any employee who has been given the SHAFT will not be expected to take as much SHIT the following year.

The only exception to this regulation are those teachers who have Bilingual Activities in Language, Literature and Science (BALLS). Teachers with enough BALLS may avoid being SCREW’d annually. Teachers in this category are eligible for courses offered by the Boston University Local Language program (BULL).

Approval for BULL SHIT courses must be obtained from the Superintendent’s Office–Business (SOB). Only the SOB can determine how much SHIT an employee must take before being SCREW’d.

Those teachers who have taken enough SHIT courses, have SCREW’d and given the SHAFT are eligible for the Regional Educational Division (RED) Award for Superior Service (ASS).
Only teachers with RED ASS will be considered for administrative positions, and entitled to give more SHIT than they take.”

#8 and #9: Joking about our common humanity unites people

“Examples of unifying humor that tap into the universal ‘us’ can pop up most anywhere,” Anderson wrote.

Sometimes these examples of everyday human mistakes are found in typos or unintended errors that happen from time to time in the media. Here are two newspaper headlines that Anderson presents as re-stating the obvious:

“‘Study Finds Sex, Pregnancy Link’ — Cornell Daily Sun”
“‘Lack of Brains Hinders Research’ — The Columbus Dispatch”

Another common experience is the feeling of self-doubt that crops up when going to a job interview.

Stephen Colbert includes a humorous narrative about interviewing for a job in his book, “America Again.” Colbert introduces the humorous story by saying that an interviewee will be asked many interesting and perplexing questions. His advice is to just be yourself … and memorize this story:

“Where do you see yourself in five years?,” he wrote. “You don’t want to just give the employer an answer here. You want to take him on a journey. ‘Where do I see myself in five years? Right here, sir. And the whole building is crumbling around us during a 9.6 earthquake. Everybody is screaming and panicking, but not me, sir. Not me. I’m hoisting you up and slinging you over my shoulder, fireman-style. I’m carrying you down the stairs, out to the street to safety. Then you’ll turn to me and thank me.’ I’ll say, ‘For what, sir?’ And you’ll look me in the eye as a tear falls from yours and say, ‘For keeping the promise you made to me five years ago when I hired you.’”

MASH Sitcom Cast Image in Public Domain

MASH sitcom, 1974 cast photo by CBS Television (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons.

#10: Reduce anxiety with humor

Sometimes jobs might have a dangerous side. Mining comes to mind. Humor may be a way for co-workers to lessen the anxiety that goes along with risk-laden jobs.

This quip published in “The Reader’s Digest Treasury of American Humor” is still funny after more than 45 years:

“Classified ad: ‘Man wanted to work in dynamite factory; must be willing to travel.’”


And here is one final thought to consider from the musician Willie Nelson in his book “The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes.”

“Remember, the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese,” he wrote.

And there you have it — ten humorous stress-relievers for some comic relief after a busy workday.

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