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Halloween (and April Fool’s Day) are those times of year when we think about funny costumes, decorations, jokes, and pranks. When it comes to the holidays and work, it’s important to remember that different cultures celebrate in different ways. Take Halloween for instance. While in the U.S., we might think of October 31 as candy corn and the Great Pumpkin, in other places it’s a day of remembrance. And in others, Halloween can even be considered offensive and something to shun.

So when a holiday is approaching, especially a holiday that has a sense of humor associated with it according to our culture, we need to remember that humor is a very subjective thing.

That’s not to say levity is bad. It can be a very good thing. We enjoy being around people with a sense of humor. People like it when we don’t take ourselves too seriously. But what is funny to one person, can be offensive to someone else.

Adding humor to a solemn event can appear insensitive. Here are a few things to consider if you’re contemplating some kind of humorous joke or prank at work (holiday or no holiday).

  1. Know your audience. First question – Does the other person(s) involved share your sense of humor? Answer honestly. If the answer is “no”, then are you willing to proceed? When it doubt, find a neutral person (maybe someone in human resources), to review the idea first.
  2. Timing is everything. Even individuals who share your sense of fun have days when joking isn’t on their agenda. They might be preoccupied with something. Or have a big project deadline they need to meet. Pay attention to the signs.
  3. Would you do this or say this on social media? It’s unfortunate, but some people associate funny with inappropriate. Always keep work humor suitable for all audiences. You don’t want your joke to turn into a workplace investigation.
  4. Don’t take advantage of a person’s phobias or idiosyncrasies. We all have fears, quirks, whatever you want to call them. And it might be okay for someone to poke fun at their own quirks. But resist the temptation to join in. It could backfire on you. (creepy clown costume)
  5. Read co-workers body language. Speaking of backfiring, if you notice that others aren’t joining in on the fun…don’t push or pressure. Respect their decision not to participate.
  6. Always accept responsibility. Hopefully, it doesn’t get to this point, but should someone take exception with the humor, apologize and accept responsibility. Damaging working relationships over a joke or prank is never the goal.

Bottom-line: the Golden Rule applies here. Don’t do or say anything you wouldn’t want done or said to you. There’s a time for work and a time for play. Striking the right balance will allow everyone to have fun and still be productive.