You would think that inappropriate work jokes or comments would by now be a thing of the past. Think again. Sadly, they are not.
It’s never okay to make indecent jokes or engage in a rendition of a funny (to you, maybe) inappropriate personal story about the time you went to a strip joint; however, with the holidays upon us and our virtual parties in full swing, now might be a good time for a refresher course on Holiday Party etiquette—virtual or otherwise!
These 2 simple rules are the foundation for avoiding any inappropriate conduct in the workplace:
Rule #1: Your employee is not your friend, mother, father, daughter, son, sister, brother, girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, or drinking buddy, etc.
Rule #2: Your boss is not your friend, mother, father, daughter, son, sister, brother, girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, or drinking buddy, etc.
Whether you are an employer or an employee, please remember that what you consider to be light-hearted storytelling or a funny joke, others may not only find offensive and insulting but you might be putting yourself at risk of a sexual or workplace harassment complaint; and/or termination of your employment. Inappropriate jokes and comments can quickly turn into actionable harassment if the jokes or comments are unwelcome and if they could be considered ‘vexatious’ (i.e., annoying, frustrating, distressing, or worrisome) by any reasonable person.
Sometimes, you may think that telling a joke or sharing a personal story might help build team spirit and a feeling of togetherness. However, just because people laugh in that moment, this does not mean they are okay with your off-color humour or your inappropriate ‘over-sharing’.
Maybe you are giving advice and believe you and your peer are on the ‘same level’.
Maybe you are having a conversation with a colleague and you are not aware of the actual effect your joke or personal ‘over-sharing’ is having on that person. You may not know anything about their upbringing or their background or any of their past experiences, triggers, or traumas.
Some Senior Managers or Executives may feel it shows off their cool factor and sharp wit when they divulge inappropriate personal stories or share a “funny” joke with their teams. Maybe you’re a boss who wants to be one of the cool kids.
The fact is, just because inappropriate humor in the workplace is still here and, unfortunately, quite common; particularly during Holiday Parties when people feel it’s okay to let their guard down–to be ‘more human’—it is never okay. It is never acceptable.
4 Tips for Preventing Inappropriate Humour and Over-Sharing in the Workplace
While COVID-19 has forced many into virtual holiday office parties this year; this does not mean that sitting behind your computer during a virtual work social (or worse, a team meeting!) is a license to loosen up to the extent of over-sharing, telling indecent jokes or getting drunk in front of your colleagues, employees or boss during this year’s holiday party, team luncheon (or ever).
Here are some tips to ensure your workplace etiquette is on point this year (and always) – not just during your holiday lunches, parties, events (virtual or otherwise) but as a rule and as a best practice:
Tip #1 – Mandatory Workplace Harassment Training
To ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding appropriate workplace behavior, formal training on workplace harassment should be made mandatory for all people at every level; whether you are an employer (Manager, Director, VP, Managing Partner, President and CEO, etc.) or an employee who has ‘friends’ or casual relationships at the office. An effective workplace harassment training program should highlight employees’ rights and empower people to take the correct steps (according to your company’s harassment policy and escalation procedures) if they encounter unacceptable behavior. Companies may also benefit from choosing a training program that focuses on empathy and/or diversity and inclusion training so that employees can learn to see situations from others’ perspectives and understand why an interaction may be perceived by another person as being acceptable or unacceptable.
Tip #2 – Lead from the Top Down
Make it clear that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated at any level and lead from the Top Down: Discourage your Executives and Managers from making any inappropriate commentary, referencing any sexual ‘personal’ stories, or telling off-color jokes. All the training in the world won’t make a difference if employees see their manager making inappropriate jokes or comments to other employees in meetings or at the office party/social event. If you are a ‘boss’, please lead by example.
Tip #3 – Take a Look at Your Company’s Culture
Examine your company culture and consider what norms may be priming the work environment for inappropriate behavior to occur. Can an employee comfortably establish clear boundaries between their personal and professional relationships without being penalized, or do they (unofficially) have to attend every ‘Team Drinks’ event to stay fresh in their manager’s mind and be considered for that promotion?
Tip #4 – Take a Look at Your Workplace Policies
Many workplace policies include a Code of Conduct that outlines what is and is not acceptable behavior in the workplace. Employers and employees should read their workplace policies for guidance on what behaviors are considered acceptable or unacceptable. Also, employers should thoroughly review these policies to ensure they are effective in communicating the company’s expectations and reflective of the company’s values.
These tips are important for everyone, both employers and employees alike, as we all have a role to play in positive organizational behavior and are never meant to be done. If you are in a position of authority or influence at your company, it is important to take inappropriate comments and behaviors seriously. It is the duty of those in positions of power to create safe and inclusive work environments for their people. The ultimate responsibility for preventing inappropriate behavior at work lies within leadership.
Workplace harassment can have significant impacts on the workplace including increased turnover, decreased productivity, and escalating legal costs. Contact [email protected] to create legally-sound workplace policies, deliver training on workplace harassment, or conduct a third-party workplace investigation.
“The job of human resources is to make sure that resources come to work with their hearts and go back to their homes with happiness.”
― Amit Kalantri, Wealth of Words
Authored by Effie Tsergas, Founding Principal.
Co-authored by Cierra James-Hahn, HR Business Partner.
Effie Tsergas has been a champion of positive organizational behavior for over twenty-five years. She is the Founding Principal of Tsergas Human Capital.
HR Business Partner
Cierra is an experienced human resources professional with a comprehensive background in recruitment and onboarding, contract writing, compensation and benefits, health and safety, and policy development.