Kick Sarcasm to the Curb – Why to Eliminate Toxicity from Office Culture

This blog may be prompting you to raise an eyebrow and begin searching for any number of sarcastic memes, but sarcasm is a gateway to toxic office culture.

Creating a positive office culture is one of the best ways to improve workforce morale and increase employee retention. While many people value a witty work environment, sarcasm tends to breakdown communication and create negativity. While the occasional snarky remark may cause a few laughs, there is a steep downward slope to a negative and unproductive office environment. Here are four reasons to kick sarcasm to the curb!

  • Sarcasm Causes Miscommunication: Sarcasm can trigger several negative responses; it can signal insubordination, disrespect, and confusion to both office roles and project responsibilities. In meetings, it may derail discussion and prevent collaboration, provide control to a negative employee, and ultimately disrupt productivity and forward momentum.
  • Sarcasm Erodes Team Trust: Sarcasm drives a wedge in professional relationships, and aggressive sarcasm can cause friction in teams and cause distrust. Employees may feel their sarcastic colleagues are not listening or being overly defensive – or at the worst, may feel bullied or demeaned by sarcastic comments. From the opposite viewpoint, sarcastic employees may find their colleagues to be dull or dumb if their colleagues don’t pick up on context or tone. Sarcasm can easily become passive aggressive bullying and diminish office morale and harmony. Ultimately, sarcasm will shut down communication and may limit creativity by creating fear of shame.
  • Humor is Subjective: Every employer has a staff made up of diverse personalities. While humor tends to be a major part of an employee’s personality, not every employee will understand or appreciate sarcasm as something humorous. What one person may think is harmlessly sarcastic, another may find personally offensive. Much like there being inappropriate jokes or language for the workplace, using sarcasm opens the door to degrees of inappropriate humor.
  • Sarcasm Creates Confusion for New Hires: Bringing a new employee into a sarcastic office culture causes confusion and limits potential. Employees may feel the need to emulate sarcastic behavior or feel shamed or excluded from discussion. Sarcasm clouds clarity on roles and prevents learning and understanding, ultimately having corrosive effects for employee onboarding.

When left unchecked, sarcasm will inevitably grow and eventually encourage other negative behaviors. Sarcasm grows into condescension. It opens the door to gossip. It discourages honest and open discussion. It is a precursor to bullying and can often turn into harassment. To prevent this slippery slope, follow these tips for addressing office sarcasm:

  • Set the tone: treat people courteously and with respect.
  • Raise awareness on your company’s policies for bullying or harassment.
  • Be direct and calmy confront sarcasm in the moment.
  • Assume good intentions but ask questions to clarify tone.
  • Build employees up: sarcasm is often a shield for insecurity.

The witty one-liners at the water fountain may seem harmless, but in the end, the damage caused far outlives the memory of a good laugh. Kick sarcasm to the curb and watch the overall positivity of your team improve!

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