Is there a general, universal definition of what is considered to be appropriate office behavior? The simple answer is no.
There is no universal definition for what is considered acceptable for every workplace today. However, any behavior, language or gesture that makes someone feel uncomfortable is unacceptable and should be discontinued. If you work in a less formal environment in which creative thought and expression are encouraged, you may have fewer rules when it comes to proper business protocol. An advertising agency, for example, may encourage a far more casual environment in which free thought and expression are encouraged.
When it comes to humor in the workplace you take a chance on something being considered funny or entertaining. You risk your personal and professional reputation if it fails. You may also find that colorful humor is entertaining one day and truly tasteless the next. That is why one should always think before they speak or act.
Furthermore, it is often difficult for an organization to promote a “wild card,” someone known for his or her envelope-pushing humor and behavior. If an employee has displayed less than suitable behavior, there should always be a concern for legal repercussions down the road. Individuals who take chances with humor may be viewed as careless and unprofessional. Furthermore, you do not know who is within earshot of your comments. Often, individuals who were not supposed to hear the comment do and are offended without anyone knowing.
We spend at least a third of our day in the work environment, surrounded by people with different definitions of what is considered appropriate. No one wants to be considered a fuddy-duddy or a stick in the mud. However, a business environment has limitations. It is not a bar or a club. It is a business and calls for a professional code of conduct. You must clearly understand the consequences of “trying to be funny” in the workplace and respect the differences of opinion in humor. In many situations, we spend more time with co-workers than loved ones. Creating a professional, comfortable work environment for everyone should be the ultimate company goal. Appropriate office behavior matters.
Colleen Harding is a certified etiquette and protocol instructor and the founder of the Cleveland School of Etiquette and Corporate Protocol. Programs and packages available for children and businesses.