How Humor Can Be Inappropriate

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The consequences of inappropriate humor are nothing new (in fact I wrote about humor as an HR issue back in 2013). But in light of the recent happenings with a certain TV show and its titular actor, I figured it was worth re-visiting.

There are three reasons humor tends to be inappropriate in the workplace:

1) Inappropriate Subject Matter

Inappropriate subject matter is typically the most offensive, and can take several different forms. Off-color humor, or humor about very grave public events are both examples of inappropriate subject matter. Just because you’re using humor, it doesn’t mean you’re free to talk about whatever you want.

2) Inappropriate Target

Humor that takes aim at an inappropriate target is another common way office humor steps out of bounds. If a person is being made fun of, the office atmosphere can quickly change from being fun and lighthearted to exclusionary and polarizing, which is inappropriate for any place, not just one of work.

3) Inappropriate Time

Using humor at an inappropriate time can often be just as upsetting as either of the two preceding categories. Some moments are meant to be serious, and trying to lighten them with humor can come across badly. For example, firing someone is not the time try out your witty one-liner about firetrucks.

Avoiding Inappropriate Humor at Work

When thinking about humor at work, make sure you aren’t doing any of the above. Last week, we talked about the Four Styles of Humor. The easiest way to make sure your humor is appropriate is to focus on the first two styles.

Have you ever felt the repercussions of using humor at work? What happened and how did it get resolved?

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