Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Humor in the Workplace

I once heard an attorney tell a workshop, "You should have a bland workplace. No joking. No teasing."

I'd hate to work in a place like that. Productivity would be poor. Morale would be in the basement. It might be a lawyer's dream but it would be a worker's nightmare.

Instead of banning humor, why not stress respect and professionalism? Both of those can head off the harassment problems that are feared by the humor-banners. So too can can some basic ground rules:
  • Don't tell any joke that you could not tell without embarrassment in front of the average member of any group.
  • Don't use humor to harm or divide.
  • Recognize that there is a world of humor that doesn't mention race, national origin, religion, sex, or disability in a disparaging way.
  • If you sense that a joke may be inappropriate, it probably is.
  • Remember that outsiders are judged by a different standard than insiders.
  • Don't underestimate the harm of a cruel joke. People can recall cutting remarks long after the words were uttered.
  • Be extra cautious when joking in emails. Nuances may not be noticed and emails have a habit of being forwarded.
  • Watch out for escalation. Joe tells a mild joke, Mary tops it, Yolanda tops that one, and then Elmer goes nuclear. Before you know it, the humor has gone from mild to mean.
  • Just because you heard a joke on the radio or late night TV doesn't mean it is appropriate for the workplace.
  • Don't play "gotcha." Give others the benefit of the doubt. We've all said things we regret. Respect and courtesy are important but so too is cutting others some slack.

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