Archive for November, 2012
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Today’s post was original posted on The Standup Executive.
If you know anything about Peppercomm, you know that we are all, hands down, the funniest people you will ever meet (or at least that’s what we all like to think). We have a fun and open culture, but one that knows when to draw the line.
I think it’s safe to say that most corporate cultures can tend to be a bit more buttoned up. But when you are in a more open work environment, how do you know where that line is?
At a previous job, a member of the management team tried to make the culture more open and thought he could gain a solid following of his employees if he kept his management style light and humorous. That sounds well and good until you realize that by “light and humorous” he actually meant “wildly inappropriate to the point of making people uncomfortable/want to go to HR”.
This may make you think of the character Michael Scott from “The Office,” and that would be accurate if you take away all of Michael’s likability and charm.
So “Evil Michael Scott” (as I will call him) started talking to a group of us, which included a group of four women all hired on the same day. Before he started the meeting he looked at me and the other three women and said, “You four! Aww, yeah, we hired you all on what I like to call ‘Big [Boobs]* Tuesday’.”
He then looked at me and said, “Laura, you were the exception to the rule.”
What made it even “better” was that he paused for laughter before launching onto a different topic. To his surprise, he was met with dropped jaws and confused stares.
Now, it takes a lot to offend me and I really wasn’t too upset (please note that this is not an open invitation to say weird things to me), especially since I had already identified this man as a manager gone wrong. The other ladies marched to HR so fast I didn’t even know they had left.
But the real question is: how can a person who has gone through a significant amount of school and management training for his position think this behavior is appropriate? Even without the training and schooling, common sense should alert one to the fact that comments like these are not actually funny.
At Peppercomm, we’ve learned several key rules of thumb that keep it fun – but appropriate. This includes steering clear of any jokes or sarcastic comments having to do with people’s bodies, sex, religion, etc. in the workplace. They’re offensive and hurtful on many levels. You can also almost always guarantee at least one person will be uncomfortable and that hurts morale in the workplace.
Looking back on the situation, it’ is so outlandish that I still can’t believe it even happened. The only thing funny looking back? That manager was eventually fired from the company and had a sexual harassment suit brought against him . . . albeit for a different incident. He’s a good lesson for managers everywhere when building a freer culture: there is a fine line between being funny and being offensive. Being funny is not an open invitation say whatever you want.
*Don’t worry, he used a term even “classier” than “boobs”.