But they were ‘just joking’!

If there is one phrase that used to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up as an HR Director it was “yeah, but they were just joking around”.  This was usually the explanation provided for the incredibly offensive racist joke, the repeated sexual comments, and yes, even the hole drilled in the wall separating the males’ and females’ restrooms (I swear, I couldn’t make this stuff up).  What I’ve seen happen time and again, is a manager or owner wants to create a fun, informal atmosphere.  They hire people who they like and enjoy and everything is great for a while.  This can usually go on indefinitely but if it’s a successful business it will eventually begin to grow and there will inevitably become a time when the owner or manager needs to hire people outside their network.  Strangers, if you will.  As soon as this happens, or maybe even before, the workplace dynamic changes.  What used to be acceptable might not be, and it can seemingly happen overnight.  So what’s the answer?  It’s not to stop growing, and it’s not to only hire people who like dirty jokes.  A workplace culture has to mature, just like people need to.  What was maybe okay when it was the owner and her best friend working out of the garage just won’t be once two more employees are brought on board.  The trick is not to wait until people are offended, as that always creates awkwardness.  It’s best to be intentional about the kind of culture you want, and start working early on not only the policies, but also the norms, you want in place to foster that culture.  It starts with a handbook, but there is much more you can do as well.  And take heart; you can still joke and it will still be fun, but you do need to set things up to keep yourself out of court.  For more info on creating great cultures call Limitless HR Solutions.

By Carrie Maldonado

Carrie Maldonado, is an organizational development consultant, author, and speaker. Carrie's eclectic mix of professional interests include writing, speaking, coaching, and consulting on topics ranging from organizational behavior management to spiritual transformation in and out of the workplace. Carrie lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her patient and long-suffering husband and their three children.

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