What To Do When Humor In The Workplace Becomes Inappropriate

Sometimes work can get serious and stressful. There are times when you need to 'lighten up' the environment somewhat ... and some humor in the workplace is called for. A good dose of fun can be a just the right thing for several reasons.

  1. Putting some humor into a stressful situation can put a new perspective on it and that can help you handle it and get through it
  2. A little humor can actually make you more efficient, especially when you break the tension
  3. Few people (particularly high quality people like you) stay around in workplaces that are dreary and miserable
  4. When you are happy you are more productive and work more effectively

You can take the workplace humor quiz to discover if you need to inject some humor into your workplace.

What Is Appropriate Workplace Humor?


Let's say that your department has some pretty heavy deadlines looming, and as a High Performance Leader you want to keep your people engaged and inspired. So, you decide to bring in a bell with panic written on it and say something like this to your team:

"Okay we are going to have to pull together, and really focus to meet our deadlines, but we also want to remember that part of our mantra in this team is 'to have fun as we deliver great service. So, hit the panic button, folks, whenever you are feeling overwhelmed or need to remember to lighten up."

Doing something like this, will relieve some of the tension people might be feeling, provide some perspective and help to make them feel a little better about the situation. Your people will understand that you, the leader, want to achieve your goals AND you are keeping a clear head about making sure the workplace is engaging.

Injecting some humor in the workplace is likely to keep people focused AND help them to get the job done more efficiently.

Take a look at how Air New Zealand has managed to take, a very serious subject, and something that most people snooze through .... the pre-flight safety spiel ... and turn it into something humorous, but more importantly ... something that people watch and talk about! It gets the job done and it engages people.

That's appropriate humor, but what do you do when workplace humor is not appropriate? Well, let's back up for a minute.

What Is Inappropriate Humor in the Workplace

Inappropriate workplace humor is anything that causes others to feel uncomfortable. Teasing someone about their performance and laughing about it amongst coworkers is inappropriate and unprofessional ... there are some people who seem to think this type of humor will get the person to 'pick up their game.' It doesn't. If you've ever been guilty of trying this tactic, to improve a person's performance, you need to read and practice the skills found in "Successful Feedback"

It's also inappropriate workplace humor, for example, if there's any type of prejudice involved, such as racial humor, making fun of someone's disability, physical appearance, or gender biased humor. And, of course, any sexually based humor is completely inappropriate. All of these could well lead you to the lawyers office on discrimination charges.

Guidelines For Handling Inappropriate Workplace Humor

  • Don't encourage or participate it - either as a leader or within your peer group
  • Don't stay silent about it - firmly but calmly state that you think this was inappropriate
  • Don't fight back by similarly making fun of the person doing the instigating in the first place
  • If you are unable to handle it yourself then report the incident to your manager or human resources immediately. Chances are, there's probably actually a policy against this type of humor

Inappropriate humor doesn't belong in the workplace ... make sure that the humor never excludes anyone and causes people to become distracted because they are feeling bad.

Certainly keeping the vibe in the workplace light by using appropriate humor ... something that surprises and leaves people feeling good ... is one of the tools you want to use regularly to create a workplace that engages and energizes.

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