This situation was published in the 04 Jan 2021 newsletter.
Your direct report, Albert, has been with your team for two weeks. You notice
Albert posted a joke on Slack (a work chat platform) that may be interpreted as
offensive by other team members. How would you approach the situation? Click
your preferred option or fill in the text-box and hit “Submit”
- No one complained about it - so you ignore it and continue with your day.
- This behaviour is unacceptable - so you send an email to HR.
- You are building a culture of free speech and like or follow-up the joke with a similar one.
- You privately and empathetically acknowledge that while you understand it was a joke, in an electronic medium it may be easily misunderstood.
We asked you to consider
96% of you said you would privately and empathetically acknowledge that while
you understand it was a joke, in an electronic medium it may be easily
This is the approach most management books would recommend. However, this is
more easily said than done, especially when you risk sounding patronizing.
Therefore, the most important point is to firstly empathetically acknowledge the
“Hey, Albert, I appreciate you joking with the team, however be mindful next
time that a joke about (subject) might be misunderstood. I know you did not mean
it, that is why I am giving you this feedback.”
Ideally this would be done in person or over a video call, otherwise you risk
yourself being misunderstood.
Thank you for sharing your own suggestions too:
- Depending on the size of your organization have a clear and easily accessible Code of Conduct to refer Albert to.
- A sensible use of different modes of communication should be explained during induction / onboarding.
Here’s a short explanation of the remaining options:
- Ignore the situation. A manager’s silence can be as impactful as giving feedback. Not taking this silence into account may lead to other people assuming that a behaviour like this is allowed. Once the behaviour becomes a habit, stopping it may be very difficult.
- Involve HR department. While the intent of this answer is good, the action taken is not necessary. A casual situation like this that happened for the first time, in the vast majority of cases, need not be taken to HR. It is a leader’s responsibility.
- Follow-up with an offensive joke yourself. Free speech is important, but in a similar way to ignoring the situation, if a manager appears to support such behaviour, it may lead to alienation of the other team members.