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Faking it with the boss’s jokes? Leader humor quantity, follower surface acting, and power distance.


Academy of Management Journal


Organisational Behaviour

Authors / Editors

Hu X;Parke M;Peterson R S


Publication Year



Most scholarly work concludes that leader humor positively affects emotional outcomes for followers. However, two interrelated issues with past research make this view incomplete: (1) studies often conflate the act of expressing humor with the humor’s effectiveness, and (2) existing research overlooks follower emotion regulation. In addressing these issues, we generate and test new theory that challenges the theoretical consensus, highlighting why and when leader humor expression has emotional costs for followers. Specifically, we theorize that leader humor quantity, irrespective of its quality, puts pressure on followers to engage in surface acting to fake or exaggerate positive emotions. We further propose that these surface acting responses are more likely to occur when followers hold high power distance values, such that followers more willingly comply with expectations to display positive emotions in response to leader humor expression. This increase in surface acting then leads to more emotional exhaustion and less job satisfaction for followers. Results from three studies—including a field experiment, a laboratory experiment, and a multi-wave field study—provide support for these hypotheses. We close with a discussion of how our findings provide a unique counterpoint regarding the effects of leader humor on follower emotional outcomes.


Leader humor; Surface acting; Power distance; Emotional labor; Wellbeing

Available on ECCH


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