Whenever I conduct employee harassment training, inevitably the question comes up, “why can’t we continue joking around when we have been working together for years and this is a part of our camaraderie?” Along a similar vein I hear people say we have become “too politically sensitive”.
My reaction to this is to have some degree of sympathy. Part of human nature is to rely on dark humor to relieve stress and there are times we need to open the gates in our frontal lobe to diffuse pent up emotion. Jobs which touch on the macabre or are pressure cookers tend to require this more often.
In these cases I try to re-frame the conversation around the employee’s understanding of professional and ethical conduct. They profess to know it when they see it, so we work on describing the limits of their own tolerance. We talk about the unique circumstances of their work environment that give rise to their particular brand of humor and how this is perceived by others in their surroundings.
What usually happens is that we begin with the assumption that what they do is o.k. and we end up with a proscription for letting others know when the humor crosses the line. Bingo. Mission accomplished.