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When Office Humor Attacks

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

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Feb 8, 2006 4:32:00 AM

Recruiting.com links to some funny videos at Despair.com, the same guys who brought you spoofs on office motivational posters with sayings like:
Apathy: If we don't take care of the customer, maybe they'll stop bugging us.

I'll confess that I'm a longtime Dilbert fan, and I consider Office Space to be the one of the five best comedy flicks of all time.

But there's a bitter edge to this. In my own life, I found that my enthusiasm for corporate cynical comedy waxes and wanes in direct proportion to how happy I am about what I'm doing at the office. As a result, I've always suspected that a company could probably chart the number of daily visits to sites like these and correlate it with employee morale on both a corporate and individual level.

Of course, even the best company will generate occasions for Bill Lumbergh references (NB- a little blue language) on a regular basis, and humor is one of humanity's most powerful coping mechanisms. The fact that Jane Doe forwards a website with some funny posters to her cube neighbors doesn't on its own indicate anything.

But when it starts becoming pervasive, something is going on. These gags are squarely in the tradition of the Theater of the Absurd. While Absurdism could be found everywhere, it flourished especially behind the Iron Curtain in the hands of playwrights like Vaclav Havel. The central point of Absurdism could be summed up as "No matter what you do, you're screwed." This resonated with people who lived in countries where the government said the economy doubled in the last year, while meat deliveries got cut in half. If your workforce is passing these jokes around constantly, they're telling you that working at your company is a pointless exercise whose only hope lies in escape.

Does this mean companies should ban dilbert.com and discipline anyone who makes a crack about "Hawaiian Shirt Fridays?" No, entirely the opposite, in my opinion. I think smart companies will use information like this to understand what's going on in the trenches.

Judging real morale is tough, and the larger a company gets the more opaque the situation becomes. Nobody likes a complainer, least of all when he's telling the truth, so the good people whose morale you really care about will in many cases smile and lie to your face about how they feel right up until the morning they hand over a resignation letter.