Does the Use of Humor as a Coping Strategy Affect Stresses Associated with Emergency Work?

November 1990 (VOL. 8, NO. 3)

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The increased concern over the well-being of emergency workers has been demonstrated at an organizational level by the implementation of formal critical incident stress debriefing programs in recent years. As well as recognizing the need for an organizational response to stress management, it is also important to recognize that individuals will have their own patterns of coping strategies that may or may not fit in with organizational expectations. In the emergency context there is relatively little documentation on the nature or effectiveness of these strategies. The present paper examines one coping strategy, humor, which is frequently mentioned by emergency workers and researchers as a common and presumably helpful strategy, but one for which there is very little systematic data. Interviews with emergency workers revealed a common belief that humor helps mitigate stress, but there was no association between quantitative measures of humor and stress in the present data. Emergency organizations may be uncomfortable with the overt acknowledgment of humor in the emergency context, but this paper suggests that it is generally used sensitively and within the emergency group only. It is possible that an alternative research approach is needed to further understand positive coping strategies such as humor.