I like to tell jokes. I don't do a lot of setup-punchline material, but I do toss off quips and cracks whenever I can--which is a good thing when it comes to workplace productivity:
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The point is, I love humor and levity, and consider it an integral part of a good workplace.
However, I don't believe there's a good reason for making racist,
sexist, homophobic, or religions jokes at work. The tricky part is
defining what crosses over the line.
A recent post on Kotaku
highlighted a blog post from a game developer who accused a former
employer of tolerating a wide array of off-color jokes:
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According to the post, which has since been removed (on advice of legal
counsel, I'll bet), the blogger (who is African American) brought up
what he felt were instances of racist, sexist, and homophobic speech,
only to be told that he was being too sensitive.
that he was even told (in a sentence that made my blood run cold), "Let
me tell you, it's ok to make jokes about slavery because that's over."
I don't know the truth of the allegations, though as Kotaku points out,
the company in question actively celebrated its "brogrammer" culture.
But I do want to address the issue of "being too sensitive."
The folks who wield that phrase as a weapon are trying to get away with a
false dichotomy--the implication is that if you judge humor based on
whether or not people get offended, you're attacking free speech, and
giving the easily offended unwarranted veto power. Their preferred
alternative, wrapped in the First Amendment, is to allow any speech, and
to ask people to "lighten up."
That's BS. Just because it's
hard to draw distinctions between free speech and being an asshole
doesn't mean we shouldn't try. And just because we get it wrong
sometimes doesn't mean the effort isn't worth it.
I think a lot about company culture, and I have yet to find an example where bigotry helped improve the bottom line.
Here are some simple principles that you should always follow:
1) Try not to hurt people.
2) Err on the side of caution
3) Listen to people, even when you disagree
If someone at my company told me another employee's jokes were making
him or her uncomfortable, I'd ask for an explanation. Then I'd ask the
joker to stop.
Does it really need to be any more complicated?