On Humor in the Workplace

It’s interesting that Microsoft, the same people who brought us those remarkably lame Jerry Seinfeld commercials, do workplace education on being funny. They consider humor to be a core competency for successful employees. Maybe they should require it of their ad agency.

This is an outline of Microsoft’s lesson on humor in the workplace, which includes a list of signs that you overuse humor:

• May disrupt group process with untimely or inappropriate humor
• May use humor to deflect real issues and problems
• May use humor to criticize others and veil an attack
• May use humor to deliver sarcasm or cynicism
• May be perceived as immature or lacking in appropriate seriousness
• His/her humor may be misinterpreted

If three or more of those apply to you, you need help. If you’ve engaged in three or more of those today, report directly to your EAP office. See you there.

I’m no stranger to inappropriate workplace humor. Once, while I was on vacation, my boss convened a focus group of employees to critique my work. Hell, who could be more objective than people trying to suck up to the boss? As you can imagine, I found this infuriating.

A week later was the company picnic. It was a swell event, with a clown for the children, loads of food, beer on tap. So the boss asks if we’re having a good time. Instead of just saying yes, I blurt out, “Yeahhh… but what do you say we gather the kids together and have a focus group on the clown.”

Cue the icy stare.

To summarize, successful workplace humor requires that your consider your audience, context, and timing. If possible, eliminate beer from the equation.

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