Today is April Fools’ Day and I think that everyone agrees that humour is an essential ingredient for keeping us all sane and grounded in what are very challenging times.
That said, it is still important remember that what what you think is a joke, others may find offensive and that the intentions behind the joke may not be perceived the same way by our peers or management. Always, err on the side of caution and be aware of your actions.
In order for office jokes, memes and tricks not to become the subject of workplace harassment, discrimination or bullying complaint, here are some six tips to keep in mind:
1.Know your audience and how they will perceive your humour
We naturally develop personal relationships at work and it is important to ensure the perceived relationship is mutual. We may be able to play a prank or send a joke to our closer colleagues which will be seen as just that but another colleague may see that as completely inappropriate.
2. Don’t obstruct productivity or sabotage a colleague’s work
A workplace is exactly what it sounds like. Despite each individual’s view on how it should be run, people are there to work, to be proud of what they do and develop their sense of belonging. You don’t want to be the person disrupting just to have a laugh – know your limit and be aware of the responsibilities of the people around you.
3. Avoid jokes that refer to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or religion
This should be as clear as daylight; however, many jokes, pranks and ‘funny business’ are built around the premise of exclusion rather than inclusion. Don’t become the joke!
4. Keep jokes or pranks simple and short-lived
We all need to have a laugh and see the brighter side of our working day but that does not mean pranks should never end. If you must devote yourself to being the office joker on April Fools’ Day, then short and simple is the best option. A quick laugh then back to business is much better than an ongoing never-ending laugh resulting in you meeting with HR.
5. Don’t set up a prank that could potentially injure someone
Similar to the third tip, no one wants to be hurt at work for the sake of someone else’s humour. Think carefully about the risks before pranking someone at a worksite. Similarly, filming someone that is the butt of a joke and distributing the video to embarrass or humiliate them or making fun of someone getting injured is clear grounds for unprofessional conduct.
6. If you’re in charge, reprimanding an employee as a joke is very dangerous territory
Being reprimanded is never entertaining and April Fools’ Day is no different. Regardless of how good you believe your relationship with your employees is, no one wants to be reprimanded by their boss especially for the entertainment of others. Think of the long-term effects that may have and the relationship breakdown which is almost guaranteed.
As a manager once said when talking about terminating someone on April Fools’ Day: “[The employee] was convinced it was a joke even after I took his keys and employee ID. As he left my office he kept stopping, looking back, waiting for me to say, ‘April Fools!’ But I never did.”
Managers should not make jokes or play tricks at an employee’s expense as a simple joke can be taken the wrong way by someone who report to you. This may unintentionally lead to low morale or awkwardness between staff and management which is not a healthy for anyone.
It is well documented that a workplace filled with laughter and good humour is a a good thing and studies have found employees who work in such environments are more creative, collaborative and productive.
A 2017 Harvard Business Review study found that the message should not be to stop telling jokes at work, or even a reason to put humour coaches out of a job. The evidence remains clear that humour is an important tool for bosses to successfully motivate their teams to achieve greater performance.
Nonetheless, while humour can be an effective organisational tool, the study reinforced the message that leaders must also be mindful of their status as role models. Due to their position, their actions serve as social cues for their employees, resulting in both positive and negative consequences. Managers should be careful about how they portray themselves to their teams, increasing their self-monitoring skills and becoming more aware of what types of humour are appropriate in different situations.
A joke may start out as “just a joke” — but for managers in particular, its impact can have far-reaching consequences.
About Marc Dib
Marc Dib conducts workplace investigations and reviews for Worklogic’s government and private sector clients.
Marc has extensive expertise in transnational and complex investigations in areas including fraud, intelligence, anti-corruption and professional standards.