I have been thinking lately about workplace behavior.
For example, is it OK to cuss at work? I have heard colleagues use all kinds of language, but I have noticed that with a few notable exceptions, I mainly hear the men doing the cussing. When they do, it seems like (they and) the students think it is cool. So I wonder to myself, could I get away with that? Should I? Would it make the students uncomfortable? Is that OK?
In general I am pretty conservative on the matter. I tend to censor myself, even in conversations with colleagues when students are not around. I regard this as a choice, and not necessarily something imposed by my institution. I also have had experiences that lead me to believe at times a more permissive attitude might serve me well.
Here’s an example: a few times I have found myself in regular meetings where I am the only female faculty member. In this environment, if I am somewhat serious, the men sometimes seem uncomfortable and constrained. Why do I think this observation isn’t me being overly sensitive? Well, in one of those meetings I (somewhat impulsively) told an off-color joke. A joke someone in construction had taught me. The whole room changed. The men laughed, relaxed, smiled at each other and asked why it took me so long to show I was one of the gang. From that point on the meetings were much more fun and jovial. Not crude or rude — just more fun and pleasant.
Nowadays when I find myself in a situation where I am one of few women, I tend to refrain from off-color jokes, but I do try to lighten up and joke a bit. It is amazing to watch the room relax. However, the power and necessity of this behavioral choice still feels a bit odd, no matter how nice it feels to be welcome and included.
I love experiencing laughter and joy at work. I want to laugh with my students and colleagues in a way that is inclusive and not at anyone’s expense, but humor is tricky. Much of it comes laden with history and assumptions. Other bits have a strong wince factor – like slipping on a banana peel.
So I have some questions about workplace behavior. How do you experience humor at work? What kinds of humor do you think should be welcome on the job? Do you ever experience humor as a form of microagression? Do you cuss at work?