That's What She Said

Kidding Around on the Job

As summer rolls on and TV reruns continue, I did like Michael Scott would do during an average workday: I turned my attention to surfing the Internet. I came across an article on the Wall Street Journal’s site entitled “Did You Hear the One About the Recession?” by Kayleen Schaefer. The article discusses how workplace humor can relieve stress and actually make employees more productive.

So does this mean Michael Scott, with his unabashed love for humor, is a better manager than we all give him credit for? Not so fast, says the article. The goal of office humor should be to unite people, not alienate and offend certain members of the workplace community.

I know what Michael would say — “But everybody loves when somebody else is made fun of!” And, you know, to an extent he’s on to something. Think about those Geico ads and their poor cavemen who are constantly put down but keep on striving for a little respect. They’re pretty funny. (Though I must admit that on the flip side, there are probably many things that a caveman could do that I couldn’t. Have you ever actually tried to start a fire with 2 sticks? That is not a walk in the park. And considering that I cannot catch my two-year old son before he gets into everything, I don’t know how I’d do with hunting for food.)

But stereotyping of groups that don’t currently exist is one thing, and offending your coworkers based on their race, sex, national origin, color, religion, or age is another. That may eventually land you in hot water. There are a lot of protected categories to keep track of, so as a general guideline, if Michael would say it, you probably should rethink it. But otherwise it’s OK to have a little fun at your job. That’s what she said!