humour in the workplaceAs Red Nose Day gets underway, you’d think cracking a few jokes among your work mates might lighten the mood, relieve stress and bolster morale.

But in a world where choosing your words carefully is paramount, a cheeky wisecrack could fall flat on its face and cause offence. How do you avoid crossing the line?

Rapport makes the difference
A 2015 study by Michigan University found that the psychology of a joke, and how it’s perceived, depends on the relationship between an employer and employee.

By the same token, if you have a less than-great relationship with certain colleagues, your witticisms may fall flat regardless of whether it’s a positive or negative joke. But when you’ve got a good rapport going, you’ll get a warmer response, no matter what the intention is behind the joke.

Stay away from serious or sensitive topics
Banter and jokes can be about anything from race, sexual orientation, politics, gender, religion, or physical looks. This is seriously dodgy ground in the office, and can spark a nuclear reaction if someone feels strongly or sensitive around such issues.

According to research by employment law firm Thomas Mansfield, some of the most offensive ‘humorous’ remarks ran the full gamut of ageist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic. Comments like these can land a company with a nasty discrimination claim.

Keep the subject matter neutral – the great British fallback is to make a joke about the weather. It never fails.

Know the limits
Everybody has different thresholds of how much of a joke they can take before things start to get heated. To avoid having to explain the context of a joke to HR, remember to always think about whether the intended target is likely to take offence.

It’s considered healthy to laugh at oneself and not take things too seriously, but picking on someone’s flaws, vulnerabilities or sensitivities can take things a step too far.

Leave politics at home
This is a hard one because the last year or so has been so eventful. But the subject of politics waves perhaps one of the biggest red flags of joke telling, largely because we live in a politically diverse community; opinions vary across social groups and individuals.

To colleagues who are clear and vocal about their political and/or social justice loyalties, certain jokes can feel like a personal jab at them. Best to stay out of trouble on this one!

The one golden rule for cracking wise at work
If you’re not sure about making a joke and have to second-guess it, it’s definitely best left unsaid.

A bit of gentle ribbing between friends, or laughing at a funny video at someone’s desk (we’ve all done it) can work wonders for the office atmosphere. But humour can also be about respecting others. Not everyone enjoys being the ‘butt’ of the joke, especially if others are laughing at them, not with them.

Explaining jokes (especially to HR) is a sure-fire way to drain them of all humour. Pop a red nose on and keep it light!