Workplace Banter – How far is too far?

Harmless office jocularity or out-and-out bullying?

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference.

Yes, it can be easy to get caught up and carried away with workplace “banter”, especially when you are not on the receiving end.

But when one person’s fun becomes another’s nightmare, it becomes hard for employers to get a grip, not to mention whoever is the butt of all the jokes.

So how far is too far?

There’s a fine line between a joke that gets a chuckle and the joke that gets you summoned into the boss’s office. So consider whether an office giggle is really worth you looking for another job after the laughter has died down.

Here are some examples of office humour taboos as well as signs that your workplace wind-ups have gone way beyond the pale.

  1. Jokes focus on sex and gender

With most companies having strict policies in place, sexual harassment is taken very seriously in the workplace. So any joke that is sexually-charged or based on gender or sexual orientation is a definite no-no, even if those involved seem to laugh it off. A place of work is a group setting, and even though those around you may be laughing along, others might be quietly offended.

  1. You start compromising your position

If you’re in a senior role then you really shouldn’t be getting involved in any kind of office pranks. You should also consider the position of the others: are they more junior than you? Have they recently joined the team? Distasteful humour may make them feel more sensitive to comments, and less able to speak up or do anything about it if they are unhappy with what is being said.

  1. An employee starts spending less time at work

If the person that is regularly on the receiving end of so called harmless jokes or group wind-ups starts to take more and more days out of work claiming to be sick, then this is a good sign they are actually trying to avoid a situation that has gone too far. Facing up to bullying is the hardest part, so more often than not, staying away completely is the only option for some.

  1. When race becomes an issue

This isn’t 1970 you know? Not that, that is any excus. And it goes without saying the inappropriate pranks using an individual’s race or ethnicity should be avoided at all times, not just in the workplace but in everyday life. What may seem like harmless banter to one person could be seriously offensive, and might even be illegal.

  1. A joke becomes a little too practical

Though practical pranks may be great fun, if there is going to be irreversible damage to someone else’s property, this might be a clue that it’s gone too far. Gluing your colleague’s belongings to their desk may be funny (for about 10 seconds), but what about the lasting ramifications like; will this joke cause any permanent damage and who will pay for it?

Matthew Crist is a Copywriter contributing on behalf of CTL Digital Solutions. Given his long and established work with a number of reputable publishing outlets, he has a vast amount of experience of working in a number of different office environments.