Magazine article American Jails

Occupational Humor

Magazine article American Jails

Occupational Humor

Article excerpt

Studies have firmly established the value of humor in the workplace. Its emotional, mental, and biological effects are known; humor can benefit productivity and reduce stress. It also stimulates confidence, creativity, and social engagement-all influential factors that affect the well-being of those who work in the correctional profession.

Exposure to the unpredictable, bizarre, confrontational, mental-physical-emotional extremes of working in a correctional facility often generates humor in officers and staff. Certainly, the nature of our professional landscape breeds a humor that is inevitable, authentic, and unique. This is a normal coping strategy to counteract stress and balance sanity, and is a part of the professional signature.

Yet, occupational humor can trespass the bounds of decency, discipline, and professionalism. Monitoring humor is a responsibility at all levels of staff, not just at the administrative level.

Legal precedent defines the parameters of occupational humor. Humor in the arenas of sexual harassment, workplace violence, and slander is unacceptable. It is important to remember that if and when humor of this nature is ignored, it conveys an implied consent and invites a corrupted jail culture and an increased risk of liability.

Outside legal standards, the boundaries of acceptable humor can be muted, unclear, or cloaked in the disguise of "harmless" humor. The failure to recognize or deter humor when it crosses the boundaries of decency not only conveys implied consent, but could be distracting, impede work performances, breed detachments, or lead to embarrassing-and even menacing-situations that are the opposite of humorous.

Humor amongst peers and colleagues is understandable; it has its place. It can convey levels of compatibility, establish comfort zones in diverse working atmospheres, and buffer constructive criticism. …

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