Can’t you take a joke?
When bad behaviour, pranks and jokes in poor taste at work are excused with phrases like,
“It’s office banter”,
“It’s just a bit of fun”,
“You’re too sensitive”
It’s often the exact opposite.
You’re accurately picking up on cruel, mocking behaviour that can damage someone’s mental health - intentionally or not.
As the recent punch at the Oscars proves, a joke isn’t always funny, especially when it’s at someone else's expense. When that leads to a spat (or, in this case a punch) then it’s clear a joke can have serious consequences for everyone involved.
Feeling free to relax and have a laugh at work is essential and part of enjoying your job, but there’s a line where pranks, jokes, and off comments can cause rows, seem threatening, cause physical or psychological harm, or be a sign of bullying or harassment.
Sometimes, the right response is for a manager to have a word and stop the behaviour. But other times, bad behaviour can start to leak across a company and become normalised. When that happens, the best action is company-wide training on harassment and discrimination. That way, everyone knows the line between enjoying a good laugh and causing real harm, and they feel empowered to act.
Of course, sometimes it’s important to avoid overreacting and have room for one-off instances where someone is offended, and the cause was genuinely unintentional and can be corrected without disciplinary action.
It’s the patterns, intentions, and culture that need to be watched out for.
Written by Jason Connolly