my manager told me to be less sarcastic at work, but I don’t want to

A reader writes:

I have a very dry and sarcastic sense of humor, which usually goes over very well at my office. All of us employ snarky humor (I just happen to do it the most), making light of problem clients and ridiculous requests from the Ding-Dongs Merrily on High. For example, we received one arbitrary directive that all correspondence has to include our complete titles and that we have to answer our phones this way. So now we do the whole “Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet” thing even when addressing each other in the office. “Will you be ordering from [Deli] today, Missus Jane Doe, Administrative Assistant to Betty Smith?”

We have one manager who generally chimes in on the snarking or at least laughs along with the rest of us. But sometimes she’s in a contrary mood and pretends not to get it or to be so far above it all — but only toward me. She never directs her “Let’s not be mean” or “Well, why would we want to do that?” (in response to my “I guess we’ll just send smoke signals until they fix the network”) to anyone else.

Twice so far she’s called me in for a talk about how something I said to someone was inappropriate. I wasn’t told what or to whom, just that I need to “be careful.” But if I don’t even know what the specific thing I said was, I can’t “be careful,” I can only continue the status quo or stop altogether. I tend to think it was just her giving me a hard time due to her hot and cold behavior in general, but even if that’s the case, I have to work with her even if she’s unreasonable. (Due to something she said this last time — “Call people by their name and nothing else” — I think she might have been referring to how my coworker and I call each other Bubblehead and Dipstick, but we’ve been doing that for almost a year, and she never said a word to “Bubblehead” about it, just me. Yes, I’m Dipstick).

On the one hand, someone’s opinion of the situation might be that it’s the workplace and there shouldn’t be any fooling around with sarcasm. Yet if I eliminate it, I’m snubbing my coworkers who (outwardly) claim that I make them happy by making work more fun. I don’t see that just cutting back on it will help, because I never know what random thing is going to be taken the wrong way. What would you advise me to do here?

Scale it back. Way back.

Occasional sarcasm can be fine, but when taken too far, it can come across as negative, bitter, and cutting. It’s understandable that your manager doesn’t want an environment full of that — in any respect, but especially directed toward clients or the company, which you say it is.

You also say that you do more of it than anyone else, so it’s not surprising that she’s targeted her requests to scale it back to you.

What you describe might be entertaining to you, but if you step back and look at it more objectively, it’s no doubt an unpleasant and negative environment for some people to work in (I wouldn’t want to work surrounded by negativity, even couched as jokes), it’s really inappropriate toward the people who are paying your bills and your salaries, it sets up an “us vs. them” mentality that’s the opposite of helpful at work, and it could be hugely problematic if overheard by the wrong person. And perhaps most importantly of all, a constant flow of that kind of thing really does change your attitude toward your workplace. If you and others are steeped in caustic remarks about work all day, that has an impact. (Ask anyone who’s been close to a coworker who complains about their boss all the time.)

You say that if you eliminate the sarcasm, you’ll be “snubbing” your coworkers, who enjoy it. But come on. Would it be snubbing your coworkers to stop telling them dirty jokes that they enjoyed? Both are inappropriate in the workplace. And, uh, your your job isn’t to entertain your coworkers.

Your manager has made a reasonable request. I’d follow it. (If nothing else, because she’s your manager and this is her prerogative, but also because she happens to be right.)

{ 360 comments… read them below }

  1. The IT Manager*

    OP, you sound like an annoying ass. You also may be a nice reasonable person (since you asked AAM I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt), but you sound like a person I attended taraining with who annoyed the heck out of me because he cannot let anything go without a snarky or saracastic comment. Admittedly the class kind of deserved it and occassionally even I find it funny but non-stop it’s very annoying. I am able to recognize that this guy is a nice guy, but I can’t stand to be near him when he’s “on”.

    That sounds like you and perhaps some or many of your co-workers are suffering in silence through your “humor” especially since they do not want to become the target of your negative humor. I’d bet you do as much to hurt morale as to improve it. Do what Alison says and scale it way back please for the sake of others.

      1. The IT Manager*

        I apologize for calling the OP a bad name.

        The point I was trying to make is that I doubt everyone is as amused as you think they are, and that because of your skill and tendency for snark and sarcasm they are actually afraid of complaining to you personally for fear of becoming the butt of your jokes. I doubt you are as well liked as you imagine you are, and I’d bet some people are worried what you might say about them if they did something you disagreed with. From your description of the situation (which admittedly does only highlight your negative characteristics), I probably hate to work near by you, but I’d keep quiet because I would not want to be the target of your jokes.

        1. PostivelyPositive*

          I used to work with four snarky folks. It was awful, all the time. Snark is negative. Period. I would rather work with positive people. I’m glad the our little cadre has moved on to better jobs elsewhere. If you must snark, then it should be like picking your nose, best saved for in private.

          1. PostivelyPositive*

            Whoa, I just read the part about “twice now she has called me into her office”. Usually, the third call-in is when you get fired. Perhaps this is simply not the right job for the OP. There are jobs where a snappy attitude is valued…OP should seek out a better fit!

            1. Maus*

              Wait. You worked with *four* snarky people and didn’t like it. They moved on and you alone stayed. The OP looks like he’s in an office where everyone except this one manager is snarky, and you want him to find a new job because it’s not the right fit? For him?

              Maybe you and the OP’s manager were/are the ones who needed to find a better fit?

              1. PostivelyPositive*

                Maus, that was four snarks to 50+ non-snarks…but like schoolyard bullies, they dominated everything. They all did find a place where their personality types were highly valued — one went into radio! Manager Tools podcast has a great ‘cast on this. I wish I’d heard it at that time, they have great ways to manage this behavior. Sorry, Maus. Positive is always better.

                1. Jessica*

                  That is a sweeping and incorrect statement. Positive is not at all always better and positivity tyrants are just as tyrannical as any other tyrant. People who merrily accept any old bullcrap never achieve anything other than being really obedient and spineless while undermining any steps toward _actual_ positive change.

                  Demanding that people act “positive” – with you as the arbiter of what constitutes positive, of course, makes YOU the schoolyard bully. You just found a weapon that you yourself consider untouchable.

        2. BW*

          Yes, I enjoy a snark every now and again, but being subjected to it constantly is tiring and annoying. It brings everyone else down and creates a negative and disrespectful work atmosphere. I can’t stand being around people like this. What they think is ha-ha snarky fun really starts to sound like chronic whining and complaining. After a while I start thinking “If this person hates it so much, why are they even still here?” That’s how it comes across.

          I had an exbf (note that he’s an ex!) who had the same attitude, and attempted to convince me of exactly the same things the OP is saying about how much other people around him like it and were not bothered by it at all. What I told him, is that if his friends and family aren’t bothered by it, then feel free to speak to them like that, but I wasn’t one of those people. I found it off-putting, and did not want to be spoken to like that or be around someone who was just constantly disrespectful. I didn’t really buy into his story about how much everyone liked it and brushed it off. This probably explained why even his family tended to avoid him. Talking about it with him didn’t help. I got the standard bully lines about being too sensitive and learning to just let it roll off my back and then being the butt of his snarking.

          There are many ways to infuse humor into the workplace without being snarky and negative.

    1. nyxalinth*

      Back in 1998 I ended up quitting a call center job training class because of someone like the OP, but in this case it was because his snarky snideness was directed at me, and no one would do anything about it. The official reason put down was “personality conflict”. I’ve grown since then and have learned to ignore it.

      While the guy I dealt with was definitely an ass, I wouldn’t go so far as to label the OP that way. He (or she) has some growing to do, but reaching out to Allison says a lot.

  2. Kelly O*

    Here’s another theory – if you’re the sarcastic ringleader, maybe the boss thinks that it’s getting a little out of hand overall, and is hoping that if you curb it, people will notice and follow suit.

    Believe me, I have a dry sense of humor too. But there’s a whole matter of “when is this appropriate” and “am I truly hurting someone else when I say this” to think about. Some people might seem to go along, but it does truly hurt them.

    And like Alison said, it can contribute to an overall negative feel to the office, and that’s the last thing you want the result of joking to be. Besides, the joke tends to have more impact when it’s not beaten to the ground.

    1. Tamara*

      This is what I was thinking as well. If the boss thinks that other employees are following your lead, then it follows that if you cut back they will too.

    2. Trysta*

      I agree. I have an employee in my office that I consider the “ring leader” in these things. She is constantly making jokes, gossiping and talking trash about others and she has her “followers.” In the event that I have to deal with it, she will be the one I speak with because I know once she stops, the rest will follow suit. This is probably your manager’s way of dealing with it and then hoping that it solves the problem at the source.

      1. Laura L*

        I’m curious-why don’t you deal with it now? It sounds like you’re her manager and she is probably irritating most, if not all, of her coworkers, so it might be good to squash that behavior now.

        1. Trysta*

          There was a complaint about speaking about someone while they were in the room and could clearly hear them so I did address that but there is still the sarcasm and gossiping. It’s tough because a lot of times my people will speak in Spanish so if I hear anything it’s from another employee. As soon as I address anything they immediately know it was someone that “snitched.” The last time I spoke with her it caused a lot of comments like “snitches get stitches” and she went on a hunt for the particular person that complained. This led to a confrontation in the department that I had to write her up for. She began yelling at the person and threatening him in the middle of the call center. I attempted to let her go that day for harrasment, but her staffing agency would not allow it.

          Now I’m just trying to figure out how to address it without causing such a stir again.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The person who went on the hunt for the complainer and said “snitches get stitches” should be fired. You can’t have an employee threatening others, or undermining your attempts at managing the situation. When you say that her staffing agency wouldn’t allow you to fire her, what does that mean?

            1. Trysta*

              They said that I have to write up once, then again and then if it happens again I can let her go. They said that she needs proper warning that the behavior is unacceptable. I mentioned that it should be common sense, but the HR dept. did not agree and said what is common sense to one is not to another so she pretty much has to do it two more times before I can let her go.

                1. Trysta*

                  That’s the same advice that I received from my Project Manager. Document everything and write up where necessary.


          2. Trysta*

            p.s. She has gotten worse since I started because she has more seniority than me but was passed over for the management position.

          3. Jamie*

            I read this as you work directly for your company and she is through a staffing agency?

            You don’t have to fire someone from a staffing agency – you call them and say don’t send so and so back and add them to a do not return list. Done.

            I can’t imagine a staffing agency having the power to tell a client that they need to allow anyone to continue – so I must be misunderstanding something?

          4. EM*

            Since when do staffing agencies get to tell companies when they can and can’t fire an employee? The staffing agency doesn’t have to fire her, but I don’t see how they can make you keep her on at your company.

            1. Joey*

              It’s a technicality. You can’t fire someone who isn’t technically your employee. That’s up to the staffing co. But you can tell the staffing co you don’t want them assigned to your business anymore.

              1. Trysta*

                When I called them to let them know that I no longer needed her on the project they asked for the reason. I explained what happened and they said that I have to “follow proper procedures.” Their procedures for all offenses is warning, write up, write up again then termination. I tried everything and even sent them statements from the other employees about how bothersome it was that she was yelling and threatening at the office and a complaint from the person she was yelling at and he even called and they still refused.

                1. Trysta*

                  In fact, they spoke to me as if I was just a naive new manager who needs more training for even thinking about firing her so quickly over it.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Were you dealing with your internal HR department or an outside staffing agency?

                  Is she employed by your company or by an outside staffing agency?

                  Did you tell them she made a violent threat?

                3. Natalie*

                  But you’re not firing her, or even asking them to fire her. You’re asking for a new employee to be assigned and they can do whatever they want with the yelling woman.

                4. Kimmie Sue*

                  It sounds like this is a whole different topic for a future AAM blog. Co-employment and staffing agencies. Trysta is definitely getting terrible direction!

                5. fposte*

                  I don’t know if they actually have authority or not; I’m not there. But it sounds to me like they don’t and that they’re hoping if they sound like it’s their call you’ll buy it and they won’t be stuck with this person.

                6. Trysta*

                  It is a completely different topic similar to the original written by the OP. By the way, what does OP stand for?

                  To finish, I did say that she used the words “stay off of my radar,” but since she didn’t touch him it’s not really considered threatening enough to take action. I’m wondering about what fposte said now though. Hmm…

                7. Jamie*

                  I’ve worked with many staffing agencies for temp labor – in my industry the need for labor fluctuates a lot so staffing agencies are a way of handling the ebb and flow of demand.

                  I’ve dealt with thousands of temps and several agencies in my career. I would really check on what policy actually is, because this doesn’t pass the sniff test for how agencies work if it’s the agency saying you need to keep her and not your employer.

                  Telling a client that they need to keep a temp they asked you not to send back? I know of no faster way to lose a client – and some clients are millions of dollars a year in revenue.

                  Someone telling me that it needed to be physical before I could address a threat? I would enjoy that – I wouldn’t even need to sharpen my teeth to sink into that one. :)

                8. Staffing agency are lying*

                  All you need to do is say to the staffing agency “I don’t want X on my site and in this role anymore. Please let her know.”

                  What they then should do is then turn round and say your assignment has ended. I think the rep is just desperate to keep the active assignment and is lying personally.

                9. Rana*

                  Wow. I would not ever work with that staffing agency again, I have to say.

                  Their job is to provide you with skilled, professional workers, not to add to your problems!

                10. Joey*

                  See if you have a written contract with them. Those are the kinds of details that should be agreed upon before you start doing business with them. Also, I’d suggest talking to the account manager and not a recruiter. They frequently get commish on the folks they find so there can be apprehension. The account manager on the other hand is more worried about keeping your business. And by the way, that’s usually a staffing company selling point- that you have the flexibility to ask for replacements with little justification.

                11. Long Time Admin*

                  I’m screaming in my head right now!!

                  Staffing agencies work for you (or your company). You call and say you don’t want Jane Doe any more, and they tell her, and she doesn’t come back. You don’t even need a reason, although that might be helpful. (They’re usually very vague, and in, “your services are no longer required”. )

                  Your HR people need to know that the agency works for them, not the other way around.

                12. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yes, Trysta, I’m thinking that either she’s really an employee of your company and the phrase “staffing agency” was used mistakenly in your comment … or your HR department didn’t realize you were talking about someone from a staffing agency when you talked to them. If she is from a staffing agency, you call the agency and tell them to replace her, period. HR’s instructions only apply to actual employees of the company. So either HR doesn’t realize you’re talking about someone who’s not an employee, or …. ? Can you clarify?

                13. Trysta*

                  I spoke directly to her HR department at the staffing agency. They were the ones that told me the policies and the other b.s. I’ve asked two other people to be taken off of my project and there was no problem but it was because the manager before me had write ups on file for the exact offense that I noted when I asked that they no longer be here. (Both were let go because of bad attendance.) I simply emailed the write ups and then they contacted them by phone to let them know not to come back.

                14. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  This isn’t how staffing agencies work. Either you’re asking the wrong questions (like how THEY could fire her) or they’re giving you a line of BS. She’s their employee, not yours, and you want her removed from your office. End of story. Unless you have the only contract with a staffing agency in the U.S. that specifies that you must use progressive discipline. It would be worth asking them to show you where in the contract it requires this.

                15. Jamie*

                  “This isn’t how staffing agencies work. Either you’re asking the wrong questions (like how THEY could fire her) ”

                  That’s what I’m thinking – because it shouldn’t matter to you if they fire her from the agency or if they promote her to C-level…you’re only concern is that she is no longer assigned to your company. Ever.

                  “Unless you have the only contract with a staffing agency in the U.S. that specifies that you must use progressive discipline.”

                  The only contract would be right. If anyone had proposed this to me, I would respond with the same incredulity as if they told me I needed to have the temps move into my home and carpool with me to work. That’s really so far beyond anything I’ve ever seen I have to believe there is a huge miscommunication happening here.

          5. Elise*

            I have 2 thoughts here:

            1. If many of your employees speak Spanish, learn Spanish. It’s not really an option. It’s a need. You need to know what they are saying. You do not necessarily need to let them know that you know what they are saying. It can be very enlightening when people don’t know that you understand what they are saying to their friends.

            2. If there are any sort of threats of violence at all, why is this an HR or staffing agency issue? This is a police issue. Seriously. I don’t understand the confusion. I see a lot of posts written by people stalked or even assaulted in the workplace and they are wondering why HR isn’t taking proper action. HR is not a criminal prosecution department. Assaults, stalking, and threats of violence are all criminal behaviors and need to be handled as such.

            If you have the authority, see if the local police department can visit your office to assess security risks. They can look for areas of the parking lot that might not be clearly lit at night, locations where employees could corner each other, good places to possibly set up cameras (if needed), etc. Make sure the officer speaks Spanish (because someone may even help by giving themselves away during the visit). Even having employees see the officer visit should set them on notice. And those who aren’t part of the problem should appreciate that their employer is looking out for their well being.

            1. The IT Manager*

              If many of your employees speak Spanish, learn Spanish.

              That’s crazy! Learning Spanish or any language well enough to understand native speakers who are not speaking to you is a years long endeavor. There are so many more useful things a person can learn in a shorter time that can directly improve their job rather than devoting time to learn a language so you can eavesdrop on gossipers.

              I don’t think you appreciate how hard it can be for adults to learn a second language.

              1. Jamie*

                This. I mean it’s great if people want to learn a second language especially if it will help them at work – but to get to the point where you’re fluent enough to pick up ancillary conversations of native speakers would take ages, if it ever happens at all.

                Then again, languages were never my forte. Six years of french and I still got laughed at in a restaurant in France for the way I asked where the bathroom was.

                I found advanced calc a lot easier than intermediate French.

            2. Trysta*

              I actually know quite a bit already since I’ve been working in the group for so long but not enough to know exactly everything that is being said. I would like to learn but that is no small endeavor.

              1. Lils*

                Trysta, I don’t think it’s a big deal not to know Spanish. Even if you don’t understand the exact words (and *slang!*) you can still understand tone and sometimes meaning–and act on it. This has worked for me in bi-lingual situations. Just keep trying to learn more and reach over that language barrier when you can, people appreciate it.

                1. Amouse*

                  hmmm that can be tricky. Languages tend to have different inflections in conversation. If you’ve ever watched two Italian men wave their arms frantically and speak closely and loudly to each other…to an English speaker that looks like fighting, to them that’s normal conversation. I would suggest the same may be true of Spanish. You really can’t go by tone.

  3. Nodumbunny*

    I speak sarcasm fluently, which is a good thing because I married a sarcastic guy from a sarcastic family. But it sounds to me like you are having a hard time figuring out when it is appropriate and when it isn’t. For example, my husband and I dish snark on what happened during our work day practically every night – because that’s the safety valve since we can’t and don’t give rein to it during the work day. Also, there is a fine line between sarcasm expressed generally and sarcasm aimed at other people, like clients and co-workers – that’s the negativity Alison is referring to. Alison is right – your manager has every right to tell you to rein it in, and if you can’t rein it in, you have to stop altogether at work and find another, more appropriate, outlet.

    1. JPT*

      As someone who has, many times, unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings or made a joke that was misinterpreted, I completely understand that the OP may think others are being overly sensitive. Often that’s the case–but in this case it sounds like the behavior is distracting and insulting. When you blatantly make fun of policies, the person who made those policies (or didn’t but has to enforce them) isn’t going to feel good about it. There are also some people who can’t make jokes and whatnot and then turn the switch off and immediately go back to work, so get them going and work doesn’t get done. If someone told you to be careful, that could mean you’ve hurt someone’s feelings, or you’re making it seem like their policies are a big joke.

      Too many sarcastic comments will also breed negativity in general and could be interpreted as a hostile work environment. I try to restrict that kind of thing to outside of work, or one-on-one to individuals who I know think the way I do. It’s taken me many little mistakes to get to where I am now, and I’m still known to spout out something randomly inappropriate from time to time. I’m still myself, it’s just about making certain comments at the right time in the right place.

  4. LMW*

    I once had a boss ask a co-worker to be less sarcastic. Our entire department was always sarcastic, and for some reason the boss only asked the person with the gentlest, most self-deprecating humor to knock it off (which made this person very self-conscious, even though we all assured her that she was funny and completely inoffensive.) Our solution: We all stopped being sarcastic in front of the boss and focused on being nice and respectful instead. Made us look extra professional in front of the boss and we got to relax when it was just us peons.
    One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that there seems to be three types of sarcastic humor: self-deprecating, situational, and aimed at others. That last one is dangerous–it works well some people you know really well, but if the other person doesn’t get your humor? You’re just a mean jack***. Avoid it at work!

    1. jmkenrick*

      I’m reminded of the thread earlier this week about the snarky e-mail that someone else pointed out could have been meant humerously.

      Sometimes it’s hard for people to pick up on a sarcastic tone. It’s possible some people think that the OP is genuinelly upset.

  5. Anon*

    Exchange gmail addresses with a couple of trusted co-workers and save your most cutting sarcasm for private e-mails. Out loud, a bit is fine, but stuff that is clearly making fun of the company on an on-going basis (the title request, your IT staff) is just going to be insulting to people who aren’t in the clique.

    1. Amouse*

      e-mails are a good diea too unless the co-workers you’re e-mailing are actually annoyed by it. Then that’s more difficult to gauge.

    2. Just a Reader*

      I actually think this is a bad idea–if it’s sent over the corporate network it can still be monitored. If it’s not appropriate out loud, it’s not appropriate via email.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I wouldn’t do this, actually! Although it solves the problem with the manager (if your emails aren’t monitored, that is), it doesn’t solve the problem of creating a negative environment in general.

      (And as a manager, I would not be pleased if I asked someone to cut this out and later found out it had just shifted underground instead.)

      1. Anon*

        That’s fair; I find it to be a healthy stress reliever for me (but I also don’t think I go as far with it as what the OP is describing). It’s possible my private e-mail is monitored from my work computer, but if it is, I’ve grievously misjudged my employer and I’m willing to take that risk right now. (I also don’t think I’ve said anything in those e-mails that would be a firing risk, though again that goes to whether I’ve seriously misjudged my employer or not.)

        1. Just a Reader*

          Anything you do on the network is tracked, including private email. Whether your employer chooses to do anything about it is up to them, but don’t kid yourself that they couldn’t find out about your emails if they looked.

          1. Anon*

            I’m sure they could; I don’t think they are, and, life being what it is, I’m willing to take some risk. I’m not a perfect employee or person, but I’m proud of the work I do and happy with the way I live my life, and if firing off an occasional snarky e-mail to a work friend helps me continue to do that work and live that life – well, as I said, I’m not a saint and I’ve come to terms with that fact.

            I say this because I think that it’s all well and good to say “leave the snark at home,” but for some of us, it really is a useful coping mechanism, in small and reasonable doses. If the OP is like me, coming up with reasonable and relatively less risky ways to make the odd snarky comment is going to be a lot more doable than going completely cold turkey on it.

    4. Work It*

      As someone who accidentally forwarded a snarky email about my boss to my boss, I do not recommend this technique.

      1. Amouse*

        eek that would be terrible! What did your boss do? I can feel the dread of the moment you realized you had actually sent it to your boss! *shivers*

    5. badger_doc*

      Instead of email, just have a happy our where you go out for drinks with your coworkers. We have done this at the company I work for for years. Every other week or once a month we go out, bitch about work for the first hour and have fun playing darts or catching up with our personal lives the second hour. Its a great way to vent and not leave a “paper trail” and it keeps the negativity out of work.

      1. fposte*

        I would agree. I think that an underground communication network devoted to during-work kvetching is actually pretty corrosive–it may feel good at the time, but it actually enhances the problems.

        1. Anon*

          I think there’s a disconnect here. Quick, snarky comments aren’t, to my mind, the same as kvetching. What they generally are is the kind of remark that is fine and not toxic with someone who has the same sense of humor as you, but a real problem generally because most people don’t. It sounds to me like some of the OP’s comments (e.g., the nicknames with co-workers) are on that side of the line.

          Stuff like complaining about IT is on the other side of the line, and can be toxic, I think, but stuff like “Bubblehead” as a nickname might well just be something that’s funny to them and cringe-inducing to everyone else and that can be done privately.

        2. Jamie*

          I agree – and there are two things in doing this which are really damaging:

          There are a lot of things I might think as an off-hand comment (but don’t say) but I don’t care enough to put into writing. The act of actually typing work snark on a daily basis makes it even more embedded. I retain stuff much better if I write it, or if I read it than if I just hear a comment.

          Two – management tends to know who the malcontents are, even if you think they don’t. If you are obviously in the disgruntlement clique even passive participation can really hard your career trajectory. I went to bat once for a woman with whom I worked – I put her name in as a team member for a highly visible project – which she really wanted. Unfortunately I had to work twice has hard to convince tptb to let me add her, because she regularly went to lunch and socialized off hours with some of the office slackers. And when I say slackers – I mean really, really egregious behavior and multiple write ups.

          She was nothing like them at work – she was really smart and great at her job and had a phenomenal work ethic. She had no respect for them as colleagues, but she liked them as people and didn’t understand why people would paint her with the same brush. But upper management who doesn’t have front row seats to who does what judged her by the company she kept.

          I got her on the team – but it was harder than it should have been and wouldn’t have happened if I had been less invested.

          Is that fair? Maybe, maybe not – but it happens every day in millions of workplaces.

          It’s like high school – people get labeled and a bad label can hurt you even if it’s not accurate.

  6. Amouse*

    “We have one manager who generally chimes in on the snarking or at least laughs along with the rest of us. But sometimes she’s in a contrary mood and pretends not to get it or to be so far above it all — but only toward me.”

    It sounds like at some point your manager decided to reform her own behaviour possibly when she felt it was getting out of hand. You sate that most of the time she joins in with the remarks. It sounds to me like she’s conflicted. If she were your co-worker she might act that same as you but because she’s your manager at some point she realized she had a responsibility not to perpetuate the environment and that it was getting out of hand.

    I would scale it way back as Alison suggests for at least a while because currently your boss is watching your behaviour closely. This is evidenced by her calling you in for chats more than once. So heed this advice and don’t be stubborn about it. I know when you are working with rules that seem ridiculous to you it is extremely tempting to take a “damn the man, save the empire!” mentality. Believe me I’ve been there. But it will only make life more difficult for you. Your co-workers will just have to deal with you not being snarky as much. After a while (I’d say at least a few months) of reduced-snark once you are sure she’s witnessed to making an effort to change your behaviour you can maybe relax a little but still don’t go back to the level you were at before. It does sound like your boss has a sense of humour or she wouldn’t ever join in on the sarcasm with you all.

    You need to ask yourself if it’s worth it to potentially lose your job over or at the very least have to deal with an amount of flack from your boss that is far more irritating than the things you are making fun of. Also you might be surprised at how much more positive your outlook becomes when you aren’t “snarking” all the time.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “Also you might be surprised at how much more positive your outlook becomes when you aren’t “snarking” all the time.”

      This is a real phenomenon. It’s kind of amazing how often it works.

      1. Your Mileage May Vary*

        It’s another side of “fake it till you make it”. You can absolutely change your outlook by pretending to be the thing you want to be. One day, you’ll discover that you’re there!

      2. Camellia*

        “Ultimate freedom is the right to choose one’s attitude. When we absorb our attitude, we are slaves.”

        Viktor Frankl

      3. Co-op*

        Yep. I had to help another employee with something due to it having got out of hand and just couldn’t get action going on it because I was met with a wall of “go away”. I set myself into “how can I help YOU solve this” mode and eventually we starting seeing eye to eye once they realised I had no intention of making them look bad and I was only there to facilitate results for the short term.

      4. khilde*

        I’m late to this conversation, but one thing that I say often in my classes is: “What you think of people is how you treat them” and “you will find what you are looking for.” It’s all a self-reinforcing cycle of the negative kind.

    2. Ellie H.*

      Yeah, this is definitely true. Even when it’s humorous and not intended in a mean-spirited way, that kind of negativity can drag down your mood and the social climate in general. It’s a basic biological reaction to the words. Positive affect can do wonders to improve outlook, productivity, happiness, energy etc. (Gretchen Rubin emphasizes this in her book “The Happiness Project,” which I would definitely put forward if we ever had an AAM book club!)

          1. twentymilehike*

            So does Twentymilehike since I think I agreed to pay her to read for me.

            And for a small fee I’ll edit your papers. For a larger fee I’ll write them from scratch.

            When does this club meet?

            1. Jamie*

              Papers?? How complicated is this book club, anyway?

              I really hope there is food – I skipped lunch again. I have got to start eating before dinner, because now I’m honestly wondering if any of you would bring brownies to this fictional book club.

              1. Patti*

                Yeah… papers? I didn’t know there would be homework. Actually, I was kind of hoping even the reading would be optional. Can we have wine with the brownies?

        1. Katie*

          Second that motion. But I hope we don’t always have to read work related books. I’d love us to bring AAM theory to unexpected places.

          And now I’m wondering what Alison would have done with Bartleby the Scrivener…

    3. danr*

      I was thinking along a parallel line… the manager may have been told to cut out the sarcasm and snark by her boss. And now she’s passing on the orders.

  7. K.*

    I’m fluent in snark too – but I keep a lid on it at work because you never know how people will take it. (I mentioned a work email in a previous post that had a snarky joke in it and I inadvertently annoyed a colleague. I explained it right away and we ended up being friends, but still.) Just like how I curse like a sailor in my personal life but I curse way less at work.

    Also, just reading all this, your work environment sounds … annoying, honestly. Bubblehead and Dipstick? It sounds like an environment where everyone is constantly “on,” and situations like that wear on people. I know it would me. I was reading this thinking “Cool it on the jokes and just get the work done already.”

  8. Just a Reader*

    If there were a 3 strikes rule, the LW would be facing strike 3. It doesn’t sound like examples are needed; it sounds like you just need to knock it off.

    People who are ringleaders for complaining–funny or not, well intentioned or not–are pass over for promotions, first one on the chopping block during layoffs, etc.

    Not to mention it’s hard to take anybody seriously when they’re focused more on making people laugh than doing a good job.

    LW, your job, your reputation and perhaps your overall career could be in jeopardy over this unprofessional behavior.

  9. Lanya*

    OP’s boss has already called him/her in to talk about this TWICE? Better watch out, OP – there is truth to “three strikes and you’re out”!

    In real life, you do not get the liberty to decide that your desire to continue a behavior is more valid than your employer’s desire for you to stop that behavior.

    You will be without a job if you don’t stop. It’s that simple.

  10. fposte*

    I think you’ll find a lot of people here who are sarcastic themselves and have realized that its effects in the workplace aren’t actually as positive as they may be enjoyable.

    However, the real point to me is that if your manager asks you to stop doing something, “but I like doing it” is not a loophole. Think of it as a dress-code equivalent–if she’s said jeans are a shade too informal and you can’t wear them in again, it doesn’t matter if your co-workers like your jeans and your workplace isn’t formal.

    1. Anonymous*

      I don’t get the feeling that this is quite the same as jeans…the OP manager sounds a lot like mine who yells at us for doing things she does herself, things that you can’t just say well she’s the manager so she can do that. I mean like no one is supposed to park in the handicapped slots even though we don’t have any handicapped people in our call center, and she’ll park there but then write up employees for doing it.

      In your example, it would be like if all the employees and the manager were wearing the same jeans, but the manager only picked on the one person and even continued to wear the jeans herself.

      She can DO All that because she’s the manager, but it doesn’t mean the person she’s targeting has no right to feel upset at the double standards.

  11. Andy Lester*

    “My boss told me twice to do X. What should I do?” The answer to that question for pretty much any situation that isn’t illegal or unethical is “Do it, or get ready to find a new job.”

    Why do you think that you get to decide different from what your boss says? Did you think that Allison would say “You make a convincing case, so I think you should ignore repeated direct orders from your boss”? And what were you planning to do when your boss fires you for insubordination? Were you going to point at this blog entry and say “Well, said I didn’t have to do what you said”? This sounds like a little kid saying “You’re not the boss of me”, but in this case, your boss is the boss of you.

    If your boss says do it, you do it, or you get another job.

    1. Amouse*

      alright that got the Malcolm in the Middle theme song in my head “You’re not the boss of me now” Sidebar: the dad is Walter White from before the Breaking Bad days.

      On topic: I agree with you.

    2. Liz T*

      I agree with the content of what you said, but I think we should all be careful; generally we’re good at not piling on too harshly to people who are in fact seeking advice. We don’t want to indulge in the same behavior we’re telling the OP to knock off!

    3. Anonymous*

      Wait, a lot of posts here are AAM saying “your boss is being unreasonable here”. I agree that there’s not much anyone can do other than do it or find a new job, but why is this attitude? Did you commentin the “mandatory book club” post and say the OP must think she can walk into the next book club meeting and say “askamanager said this is a waste of time” or to the co-worker driving post and say “either drive her or find another job?” How about the cubicle giving the poster migraines? She was told not to move and switched with a coworker anyway, probably on this site’s advice.

      Maybe you did leave comments there. I didn’t read every one. But otherwise how is this person different from practically every othr person who writes for advice here?

      You don’t sound like you’re much of a pleasure to work either.

  12. Michelle*

    “I don’t see that just cutting back on it will help, because I never know what random thing is going to be taken the wrong way.”

    What this really says is that you’ve lost all track of (or never had any sense of) how much snark is appropriate at work, or the difference between situational vs. aimed-at-others sarcasm, as LMW put it. So you probably need to just stop the public rants and keep it to yourself or silently/electronically between you and the people who definitely know when you’re joking. Trust me, I know where you’re coming from — my sense of humor is rather cynical and downright dark. But it’s a fine line to toe at work, and if you don’t have the judgment to do it well, then you should probably just put a lid on it.

    1. Co-op*

      +1 I use the rule of “would I say it in front of a client?” if the answer is no then perhaps I shouldn’t be saying it at all.

      I also use this rule with professional emails – I never write anything internally that would cause uncomfortableness if viewed externally and/or in a court of law. Co-workers have been known to blindly forward on stuff without taking out the line that says something like “the client is trying to fleece us” or something. (And yes, I genuinely DO have to say something like this far too regularly! I just find another way to discuss the matter which sounds more reasonable.)

      1. Jamie*

        My rule of thumb is to send no email that I would quit over if I accidentally sent to all users (because of tone/personal comments – not confidential material.)

  13. Katie*

    I’ll echo what a lot of people are saying: your boss has asked you to scale it back, and while he/she would have done well to tell you what comments are over the top or inappropriate, the point still stands. This isn’t an easy conversation to have with someone (as your frustrated post reflects), and your boss thought this was important enough that he/she risked the awkwardness, so clearly the sarcasm is an important issue.

    But if this is truly an important part of who you are and how you work, you might want to consider a different work environment. I was once criticized for a sarcastic comment in an interview, and I remember how nonplussed I was by the thought that it could be considered bad instead of cathartic and witty. But the critique taught me that people can read these comments in myriad ways, and because I tended to make them from time to time, I might not be well suited for some types of jobs. This doesn’t make me a bad employee, but rather not the right fit for particular work environments. I still think you should scale this back, but maybe you could start looking elsewhere too.

    1. Jamie*

      I actually don’t know that I agree that the boss would have done well to give the specific examples.

      Maybe for some people that would have helped show where the line was – but I can see some people using that as you told me I couldn’t say X – so they said Y which was worse but not specifically forbidden.

      Kind of like when you tell a kid they can’t call their sister a poopyhead, so then they call her a dummyhead and when they are reprimanded fall back on the whole exact wording thing.

      I would have been general as well.

      1. Patti*

        And I got the feeling that is exactly what the OP was looking for. “Oh, so you didn’t like it when I said X… okay, next time I’ll say Y and then it will be ok.” The fact that there were no specific examples given probably means that there were too many to give.

        1. Katie*

          I can see what you mean, and perhaps in this case that was the best approach. My concern would be that the openness of such a statement would lead to unclear expectations. Since the OP might not entirely grasp how these comments affect the workplace, a little guidance might be in order so he/she knows how other people are affected by his/her words. I bet if the OP knew he/she wasn’t making folks happy with these comments, it might change his/her perspective completely.

          Without some kind of rubric, the OP could be put in a really frustrating, self conscious position that could lower productivity. It’s hard (and perhaps somewhat threatening) to be in a workplace where you’re not sure what’s okay to say. A little training could be a worthwhile endeavor.

          1. Patti*

            Maybe it was just the tone of the letter, but I didn’t see it as a training opportunity. I feel like the OP is fully aware of which comments are causing contention, and is simply choosing to fighting for the right to be sarcastic.

            Although, in other circumstances, your point is valid, and I may have misunderstood the intent of the OP.

  14. Wilton Businessman*

    If my manager told me to wear blue pants on Tuesdays, I’d have to decide whether I wanted to wear blue pants on Tuesdays and continue working there or wear tan pants on Tuesdays and work somewhere else.

    In other words, they’ve already called you on it and told you to stop. Either stop it, or move on.

    1. mh_76*

      If the blue pants could be jeans, I’m in. If not, I’d grumble, & complain (all outside of work, of course), and start looking.

      As for the sarcasm: OP, the advice here is sound – can it and behave. Take a step back and ask yourself if people really think you’re funny or if they think you’re snarky sarcastic brat.

      Also, there are people who don’t understand sarcasm at all. Yes, it’s hard to relay in writing to anyone (read: don’t be sarcastic in writing…ever) but there are some people who genuinely don’t comprehend sarcasm at all, not even in person.

      I’ve had colleagues with whom I could be sarcastic/joking but I waited until I knew that (1) they’d get it & laugh and (2) there was a good enough rapport in place. I don’t think that you’re there yet (emphasis on “yet”), so stop trying so hard to be funny and instead model your behavior on that of those around you, especially the bosses. That’s not to say that you have to be an exact replica of them but that they should be your guides for how to act.

      1. mh_76*

        clarification: a bit of occasional sarcasm etc. between colleagues who have an established close rapport is sometimes OK provided that it’s discrete or out-of-work and that everyone laughs genuinely. OP, it sounds like you need to not be snarky/sarcastic at all…at least while you’re at yoru current company. When you’re somewhere new, wait wait wait until you’ve established a close rapport with a colleague or few, figure out what the acceptable levels of snark/sarcasm are, and aim for the middle-ground.

  15. Allypel*

    Bravo, Alison. Great answer.

    A lot of sarcasm is a smokescreen for insecurity. I have a dry, dark sense of humor, too, but I generally hate sarcasm. Humor can exist without meanness, and sarcasm is rarely as funny as sarcastic people might imagine.

    When I’ve worked with sarcastic people, especially domineering ones, I started using sarcasm as a mirroring mechanism to feel comfortable in conversation. Ironically, years ago a very sarcastic coworker, both senior in title and about a decade older, told me to be less negative in a conversation, but I was only being negative to follow the tone she had set. By nature, I try not to be negative. I find it depressing.

    The OP also doesn’t know if the manager has received complaints from other employees who were too afraid to address it with you directly. If she’s a good manager, she wouldn’t tell you that either, because she wouldn’t want retaliation against other coworkers for “spoiling the fun.”

    Sarcasm is just a hair away from passive-aggressive bullying. It keeps people on their toes and creates anxiety because it’s supposed to be “I’m going to say something really negative — but just kidding! All in good fun.” The thing is, the line between serious and joking is not clearly defined, and that’s a problem in the workplace. People worry when that you may say similarly negative things about them when they’re not around.

    I know AAM has a dry sense of humor, and I think she may have called herself sarcastic before. So, given that, her advice should especially make the OP take pause. Alison, your answer was so on-point, and I’m so glad you gave it straight.

    1. Liz T*

      I also think of sarcasm, specifically, as one of the lower forms of humor. It’s pretty easy to say the exact opposite of what you mean in a certain tone of voice. I have, in fact, referred to irony as “sarcasm but smarter,” but then that was ME being snarky.

  16. LCL*

    Snark vs nonsnark is one of those cultural differences. What some see as smart and entertaining and clever, others see as cruel, self-indulgent and idiotic.
    The workplace environment you describe is toxic because of all the snark. Maybe you are being singled out, but it is more likely that your coworkers aren’t telling you the whole truth. When a supervisor has spoken to me about something I did wrong, I never told anyone else.

    To stop yourself from being snarky, and to preserve your career, mentally ask yourself if your planned remark is at the expense of anyone including yourself. If yes, rephrase it. For further reading on this, I recommend the book “Snark It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation” by David Denby.

    1. Liz T*

      Though in some cases (like on Wonkette, which Denby attacked) I NEED snark in order to palate the subject matter. So, politics. The key is knowing that you’re using it as a coping mechanism rather than letting it infect your thinking–and knowing when it’s just not appropriate.

  17. AnotherAlison*

    I’m not sure the OP’s examples really qualify as sarcasm in my book. Some of these are really just silly, immature comments.

    Regardless, if you were told to stop, stop already!

    I really wonder what people are thinking sometimes. Would my manager want to promote “Bubblehead” and “Dipstick?” I think not. Do people who behave this way and refuse to change, because they like being the way they are, have any career goals?

    1. Kelly O*

      You know, I was thinking about that at lunch. Some of the OP’s comments to me seem less sarcastic and more just… well, smart-assed. Which is a whole other thing for me personally.

  18. Jamie*

    I’m in the take it down several hundred notches camp, also. I, too, and fluent in snark (tm NoDumbBunny) – but there is definitely something to the time and place thing, as well as knowing your audience.

    I go home and regale my husband with all the funny (to me) comments about work stuff I’ve been saving up all day. I’m not saying I’m never sarcastic at work – there are certain people in certain circumstances where I’m a little less reserved…but so are they and everyone knows where the lines are.

    This kind of reminds me of how whenever Roseanne is on TV someone in my family rushes to change the channel because if they don’t and the scene shows her in the workplace I start a diatribe about how she should be fired for creating a toxic workplace.

    Keep in mind, also, some people laugh because they are uncomfortable, or out of politeness…not always because they think it’s funny.

    The good news is it’s an easy fix – you know exactly what you need to stop.

  19. PJ*

    Early in my career, I had the same sense of “humor” as you. I had a dry, sarcastic wit that everybody laughed at but, as it turned out, nobody liked. I learned that behind my back they called me “Donna Rickles.” (If you’re of a certain age, you may know of the commedian Don Rickles and his cruel, cutting type of humor.) I thought my relationships with my peers were fine, but they were not. Someone kindly took me aside and clued me in, and thank heavens I had the grace to listen. My relationships with my peers and managers improved, as did my career prospects. Get a clue.

    1. Lilybell*

      Oh man, I think I would have actually really liked sitting by you. Donna Rickles! That’s pretty funny.

  20. moss*

    So glad I don’t work in this place! It sounds exhausting. I don’t go to work to get my daily dose of the funnies. And I am certain other people there hate the way you act.

    OP, your manager has spoken to you about this twice. That means that other people are complaining about you. You might think you’re the life of the party and making the work day fly by but I am sure other people just cringe at your comments.

    Especially the snark about IT. IT’s an easy target because their mistakes are very visible but their wins are usually invisible. And people who make easy jokes about IT (like the “smoke signals” thing, my goodness is that a dumb joke) normally are revealing their own ignorance about technology.

    I really think that nonstop snark makes you look childish (because it seems you can’t handle adversity) and ignorant. And it is certainly going to hold you back professionally since no employer is going to want to let you anywhere near a client.

    I am trying not to sound like I am “attacking” the OP but this type of environment probably makes many of your coworkers miserable, so please listen to your manager and AAM.

    1. Jamie*

      “Especially the snark about IT. IT’s an easy target because their mistakes are very visible but their wins are usually invisible. ”

      I officially love you for this comment. That is all.

      1. moss*

        I was a sysadmin for four years & have an MCSA. So happy to be back in programming though. Lord, lord. I was starting to hate humanity.

        1. Kelly O*

          Tangent – Is your name in homage to Moss on The IT Crowd? Because in my mind you are a very tall man with glasses, a plaid shirt, and that hair.

          1. moss*

            No, he is an homage to ME! I love him though. The episode where he’s dialling the emergency number because of the fire is my favorite of his.

            But actually it’s a nickname of an old internet handle I used to use.

              1. Kelly O*

                Well, there IS that.

                It’s one of my very favorite shows. And my husband being an IT guy, it confirms and validates some of our own personal inside jokes. The whole “have you tried turning it off and turning it back on again?” thing has gotten almost absurd. Almost.

          2. Jamie*

            Love the IT Crowd!! I want to be Moss – unfortunately I am more Roy (maybe the chocolate on my head if from a chocolate teapot? Hmmm). Some days I feel like yesterday’s jam.

            At least I’m not Jen (professionally speaking) she was in season 2 episode 3 of the BBC Sherlock and I woke my cat up by yelling “Jen!” when she came on!

            Definitely one of the better workplace comedies – although clearly no one there is an AAM follower.

            1. moss*

              I love Jen but my problem with her is she lies all the time. Like when she pretended she could speak Italian or that her shoe size was a 6??? I mean, comedy gold, but I can’t relate.

      2. Camellia*

        Like Y2K.

        “Everyone” says the Y2K issue was nothing but hype, over-exaggeration, nothing that should have been worried about, etc.

        Whereas us folks in IT know that the reason it came off without a hitch is because of the hundreds of millions of hours of work, over multiple years, that IT put in, to make sure that nothing DID happen.

        And I know hereof I speak because I was working for a national insurance company with hundreds of legacy mainframe systems (Can you say Comp-3, packed data, 2 digit year?).

        Truly an invisible win.

        P.S. Sorry but this was actually on my mind because it was referenced in a television show last week, with great sarcasm – “Oh, yeah, like Y2K, big nothing!”

    2. Allypel*

      You’re so right. She may not realize that sarcastic comments about things she considers minor inconveniences might make someone else she hasn’t even thought about feel incredibly unappreciated and demoralized. I wouldn’t be surprised if the OP is fairly young professionally and hasn’t made the connection yet between her own actions and the inner lives of people outside her immediate field of vision. I certainly didn’t until I was in my mid-twenties. If you’re used to focusing on what everyone else’s actions could mean, it’s a lightbulb moment when you realize that you have the capacity to influence emotions in other people, too. It may seem obvious once you’ve had that realization, but especially if there are other underlying issues, it can take a long time to figure it out. I hope this is a crossroads for OP.

    3. Liz T*

      I realize that in a way I think of IT folk as I think of waitstaff–their job is way more difficult than it seems to outsiders, and one should be unfailingly polite to them. There are bad waiters and bad IT personnel, but we should be REALLY slow to jump to that judgment.

      (I hope no one takes umbrage at the comparison; I know way more food service people than I do IT folk, so I hold waiters etc in a very high regard. I could NEVER do that.)

      1. Jamie*

        I see no reason for umbrage – I think the comparison is apt.

        Then again I’m predisposed to agree with anyone counseling others to be unfailingly polite to IT.

        In all seriousness – it is a good comparison and it’s why I never assume I know all the crap people are dealing with just in trying to do their jobs. Barging into AP and demanding to know why a check wasn’t cut because, my goodness, I approved the invoice 45 minutes ago is rude because I have no right to assume they’ve been playing angry birds for the last 45 minutes. Just as I always assume the waitstaff intends to get my order correct and if I get chicken noodle soup instead of cream of broccoli I can just politely point this out so it can be corrected. I don’t get angry as if I was almost the victim of an underground conspiracy to force feed me the wrong soup.

        Now I want soup.

        1. Liz T*

          Exactly. Besides, wait staff want you to tell them when a mistake has been made. No one wants you to suffer in silence!

      2. Rana*

        I have a general policy of always being polite to people whose jobs entail performing a service for me. One, it’s the decent thing to do. Two, it’s strategically wise, because if they are disinclined to help you (because you’re a mean ass to them) it will make your life so much less pleasant.

    4. OP*

      That’s the third comment I’ve seen about snarking IT. I don’t know where it came from. There is no IT. I’ve never worked anywhere which had its own IT department. We call Geek Squad, which takes forever because (a) the expense has to be approved first, at the office manager’s leisure, and (b) they come out to see what’s wrong and then take a day or two to get back for the actual “fix-it” visit.

  21. Allypel*

    Also, was anyone else getting Michael Scott vibes reading this?

    “I have a very dry and sarcastic sense of humor, which usually goes over very well at my office.”

    “Yet if I eliminate it, I’m snubbing my coworkers who (outwardly) claim that I make them happy by making work more fun.”

    That’s another thing to think about, too, OP. Just picture Michael Scott or David Brent whenever they say, “But everyone loves it!”

    I don’t mean to come across as insulting in any way. But it might be a good opportunity to do some self-reflection and to examine what kinds of messages you’re sending out to other people.

    1. Anonymous*

      YES! It was funnier when I imagined it that way, but I think people are laughing AT the OP not WITH him/her. :(

      1. Laura L*

        Oh, but in The Office (both versions) the employees were super uncomfortable with their bosses’ “sense of humor.” They were definitely laughing AT him. So, pretty much the same thing, except this guy isn’t the boss.

        1. Allypel*

          Exactly! The people making all of their coworkers uncomfortable thought everyone else LOVED the sense of “levity” they brought to the office, and that’s how they would describe it to an outsider. That’s what made me think of it right away.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Also when Michael Scott was given harassment training and told he couldn’t make “that’s what she said” jokes anymore, he said that it would be unfair to other employees to deny them the pleasure of hearing those jokes.

            1. Allypel*

              Such a perfect, bull’s-eye example. Since Michael Scott was both the problem and the final word for dealing with problems, it made for fun tv with lots of awkward, ironic humor. But in real life, it makes for hell on earth. So, hopefully when OP reaches management level in real life, this will be a problem she’s long learned to deal with.

              1. Amouse*

                Exactly. Also part of the reason that character was so popular I think was that it was a cathartic way for people to vicariously make fun of their own jobs, bad bosses past and present or similar situations they’ve encountered in their professional lives in ways that weren’t appropriate in real life. It speaks to why over-the-top snark might work in a parody in television but not in real life. But even the Office had its limits. When Stanley said: “Did I stutter?” or when Andy punched a hole through a wall there were consequences even in that fairy-tale parody land.

                1. Jamie*

                  My heart broke for Michael when Stanley said that. It may have been the only time I’ve wanted to hug a fictional character.

                  And I’m a confirmed non-hugger – so that says something.

                2. Amouse*

                  In response to Jamie: I know same!
                  Whenever he became the dejected child who just wanted his co-workers to be his friends that loved him I would always feel so bad for him. Steve Carrell: great actor.

                3. Katie*

                  To Michael’s credit, he dealt with Stanley’s outburst incredibly well in the end, as I recall.

                  The show has jumped the shark in recent seasons, but earlier ones were a great display of misplaced power in the workplace and dysfunctional office behavior. Also, PB+J FOREVERRRRRRR!

                4. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater*

                  I’ve never been able to get through an episode of that show. I know everyone loves it, and I’m a big Steve Carell fan, but maybe it’s just too close to home for me :-(

              2. Laura L*

                Exactly! I had a coworker once who said she wished our boss was like Michael Scott and my response was, “that would be awful.”

  22. Janet*

    It’s a rough spot to be in for sure. One of the most annoying things in life is that different rules apply for different people. It may very well be that you are not the most sarcastic person in your office and even assuming that is so, you have been singled out. I agree with the others, you have to just stop or find somewhere else to work.

    Many jobs ago I took over a cubicle and the previous employee had a sign that said this:

    Before you speak, THINK:
    T – Is it true?
    H – Is it helpful?
    I – Is it inspiring?
    N – Is it necessary?
    K – Is it kind?

    Like all self-help things, it’s a little trite and silly but it’s also a little true. Everyone gets frustrated at work and everyone wants to complain from time to time or just be sarcastic and funny – I’m the same way. I snark so I don’t go crazy. But staring at that sign every day helped me quite a bit. If I was having a bad day and wanted to vent or complain or snark, I’d look at read and remember to keep it to myself (or save it to vent at home at the end of the day).

    That’s my tip – keep that list somewhere as a guide and the next time you want to make a crack go over in your head if it’s necessary, kind, inspiring or any of the other above points.

    1. Andy Lester*

      The way I heard it was Thoughtful, Honest, Intelligent, Necessary, Kind. I wrote about it here:

      Too often we get something Thoughtful, Honest and Intelligent in our heads and we say it before considering Necessary and Kind. The best example of that is someone who says something insulting and when called on it answers “What? I’m just saying.” or “It’s true, isn’t it?”

      1. fposte*

        And I heard an older version with no acronym. If you can’t say yes to two out of three of “Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?” then it doesn’t need to be said.

        But, to be fair, I don’t meet these standards a lot of the time either; they don’t allow a lot of room for joking, and I think it’s good to differentiate between “Jokes are not okay” and “These jokes are not okay.”

    2. Ellie H.*

      That is a good list of things to consider (Personally I’d leave off “inspiring” as I don’t really see how that is relevant to most workplace communication but that’s just me). I often find myself writing an email, thinking “Is this email REALLY necessary?” and ending up not sending it.

      1. LMW*

        You could always substitute “informed” as in, “Do I know what I’m talking about?” if inspiring isn’t your thing.

        1. Liz T*

          Oh man, yes. I know so many intelligent people who have strong opinions on things without knowing anything about them. I see this a LOT regarding antidepressants, which people like to call “bullsh*t” or the like without ever having spoken to someone who used them, or researched them at all.

          I also had a smart, straight but very pro-gay friend who said he “didn’t believe” in coming out. He was young, though–at 21 many of us are still learning how to have opinions.

          1. KellyK*

            I know so many intelligent people who have strong opinions on things without knowing anything about them. I see this a LOT regarding antidepressants, which people like to call “bullsh*t” or the like without ever having spoken to someone who used them, or researched them at all.

            Those kinds of opinions are, I think, times when snark is truly called for. My initial response to “antidepressants are bull—t” is “Wow, I had no idea you were a doctor.”

            There’s probably a snark-free way to convey that a) they’re ill-informed and incorrect and b) depending on the specific comment, they may well be implicitly insulting someone they’re talking to (because there’s a pretty fine line between “antidepressants are b.s.” and “anxiety and depression aren’t real illnesses and people who have them should just cheer up”).

    3. Cindy*

      The Zen version of this is even easier to remember: “Is what I’m about to say an improvement on silence?” (Hint, from a Zen perspective, the answer is probably “no.”)

      1. EM*

        I really love this idea. My grandfather was a quiet, wise man. In his eulogy, the pastor said of him, “Orville didn’t talk much, but when he did, you’d better listen, because it was either profoundly funny or profoundly wise.” I still remember that more than 15 years later.

  23. PuppyKat*

    Great post today! I agree with just about everything that’s been written above. I would only add a caution to the OP not to fall into any mind trap of feeling sorry for yourself, along the lines of muttering (loud enough for the office to hear), “Well, I used to be able to say something funny here, but now I can’t, so I’ll just sit over here in the corner and shut up.”

    Show your boss that you can demonstrate professional behavior all the way.

  24. ChristineH*

    Ooh this post brings back memories of a previous job where there was one kid (almost literally…he was 19 when I first started) who was quite sarcastic, and got his buddies in on the act. Drove me batty! I started my MSW internship while working, and I was in heaven; I was like, “so this is what a mature work environment is like!” :P

    Haven’t read through all the comments, but I agree with Alison that it definitely needs to be dialed way back. Probably much easier said than done, since it sounds like this is part of your personality, but it can be done if you’re willing.

    1. fposte*

      Why? It’s something a lot of people have run into, and it doesn’t have much “gotcha!” power as a fake story.

      1. Ellie H.*

        I kind of agree and I would say the reason it seems like it could be fake is because it has such an obvious answer. I am a big benefit-of-the-doubt giver but the only other letter I’ve thought was fake was the infamous “company sponsored party from former employee” letter which I’m still on the fence about.

        Dan Savage ran a fake letter by mistake a little while ago – I can understand the reasons someone would send that kind of letter but not sure what the motive for fake workplace advice would be.

        1. fposte*

          What’s good about AAM is that a topic relevant to a lot of people got thoughtfully discussed either way. (In this case, anyway. I’m not sure the party thing is going to translate to most workplaces.)

      2. Anonymous*

        I feel like the type of personality that is coming across in this letter wouldn’t even be bothered to write in for advice since they seem to know it all.

        1. Allypel*

          I think they would write in expecting to hear the answer they want to hear, because they know of course they’re right. But no one at the workplace will back them up, or can back them up maybe, so the search for external validation picks up here.

    2. Allypel*

      Which parts ring fake to you? I wanna hear your dissection of it!

      Although one striking thing is that the OP hasn’t chimed in to comment yet.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Interesting. I don’t think it’s fake but I could be wrong. I wouldn’t read anything into the fact that the OP hasn’t weighed in yet though; it’s only been posted for a couple of hours and many OPs don’t weigh in until the evening when they’re home from work, or after a day or two. And many OPs don’t weigh in at all! Which sometimes disappoints me because I always ask them to, but I can certainly understand it in situations where they’re getting criticized.

        1. The IT Manager*

          Actually, Alison, this generates a process question. Do you email your response directly to the LW? Do you not email the response, but tell the LW that you replied so they come here to look (and see comment) for the response?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I love process questions! I email a note saying that it’s been published and I include a link. Then there’s a second paragraph (yes, it’s a form letter) saying that I’d love it if they’d leave feedback, and to remember to check what other thoughts people leave for them in the comments section.

      2. The IT Manager*

        I can’t track of course, but given some of the repetitive questions or questions with completely obvious (to me) answers, I think a lot of people who write AAM are not regular readers. They have a problem and come to the internet looking for help and don’t even read the archives before sending in their questions. And often they seem to take a while to show up in the comments.

        OTOH the letter writer wrote a description of himself/herself that to me makes them sound very annoying. Normally someone wouldn’t write in to say I am a mean-spirited person, my boss told me not to be, but I don’t want to change. That’s my interpretation of the description though. I think the letter writer wrote in to say I am a hilarious person, my boss told me not to be, but I don’t want to change. I see no reason to think that this letter is not real. To me they’re obviously in the wrong, but I can tell the letter writer doesn’t think so.

        1. Allypel*

          I read the description as more of an indication of low self-awareness or perhaps the OP’s youth. I could see how someone who hasn’t experienced the crappy end of sarcasm, especially if they’re young, could view their own behavior as harmless and consider a very reasonable request unreasonable. Especially if there’s other insecurity there.

          1. Allypel*

            But you’re right, given the fact that Michael Scott is a cultural touchstone, you would think it would be common knowledge. Who knows?

      3. some1*

        I’m not sure if it’s fake, but the comment about the LW feels she owes it to her co-workers to keep being snarky because it’s their favorite part of the workday REALLY jumped out at me. I just can’t imagine having that inflated an opinion about my sense of humor (and my friends and family *do* tell me I’m funny). If I wasn’t around to make my co-workers laugh, the world would keep spinning, and other things would make them laugh, and it’s a workplace so joking around should never take priority.

      4. Anonymous*

        I can not believe there are people with such low self awareness in a professional setting, especially after meetings with the boss. After almost ever paragraph I thought, “Is this a joke?” or “No way!” And even “Who does this!?”

        1. Amouse*

          oh I can think of several types of personalities. As other people have pointed out, it wouldn’t surprise me if the OP was very young. If not it saddens me to envision someone with a lot of professional experience calling their co-worker “Bubblehead!” loudly and on a regular basis.

          1. Jamie*

            I am the odd-person out on this – I’m getting an older vibe. Maybe 30’s-40’s. Someone who is more set in their ways and has been like this for a long time…and doesn’t get why it’s suddenly a big deal now.

            Pure speculation on my part – someday I’ll give that up.

            1. Amouse*

              That’s my second type of personality guess after really young. I’m strongly hoping really young so that could be influencing my observations…

              1. Allypel*

                Yup, ditto. Same here. Especially if it’s the type of workplace where it’s very hard to fire anyone.

            2. some1*

              I could see totally see that, too, and I got a whiff of bitterness that seemed to take longer than a couple years to build.

              1. Katie*

                Agreed. The kids aren’t really saying “bubblehead” and “dipstick” these days.

                My read was this was an old veteran at a workplace. Maybe new management came in recently and they’re changing things, and that’s causing some of the animosity.

            3. Kelly O*

              That was my guess too. For whatever it’s worth, I know a LOT of 40-ish guys who are like this.

              They think it’s really funny and they are being Mr. Young and Hip, and have no idea how ridiculous they end up looking. It’s that Man-Boy disconnect, at least for the ones I know.

              Naturally when told this is not the height of cool and awesome, and that it would be even more awesome if they just cut it out, they pout and sulk away. You’ll probably hear that they called a “meanie head” or something less G-rated to their friends later on.

              1. mh_76*


                In a previous job, a couple of the guys (40-somethings) called each other “dog”. My boss (one of them) once “slipped up” and apologized for calling me that… I didn’t mind in the least because I saw it as their term of respect.

                I’ve also had a handful of nicknames… one colleague called me a name that was my name with a different first letter because I reminded him of a so-named movie character. One colleague called me “loca” because I’d dubbed her “cukoo” – she said “this is driving me cukoo” a lot (great colleague, horrible job). Some people shorten my name which is…whatever…shrug. I think that there have been a couple of others but I don’t remember those, darned CRS is acting up again.

                If the nicknames are mutually seen as harmless and aren’t anything controversial/offensive/bad/…, then they are as such but should be kept between the colleagues.

            4. AnotherAlison*

              Yeah, I sort of got a Monty Python-geek vibe …reminds me of people in my own 30-to-40 demographic, esp. my former neighbor who thought he was so amusing and sophisticated.

              1. Kelly O*

                And let’s be honest, even at Monty Python funny levels, it’s still only funny to a point, and there are lots of people who don’t get it, or who just don’t think it’s funny.

                (To be honest, I only like some of it, because it can get a bit Seth McFarlane – example – did you know the bird is the word? Or the fighting chicken thing? Some people think that’s hilarious. I am officially over it.)

                1. AnotherAlison*

                  I really hate the bird is the word. Hate.

                  I like Monty Python in the way that it reminds me of when I was 15 and actually did like it, but not really to the point where I want to watch it. My dorkiness has mellowed out. It also goes along with the sarcasm vs. no sarcasm thing for me. I’m still sarcastic, but that used to be a major point of pride. (Nowadays, I’m joking if I say it is). I used to find the underdogs, the geeks, and weirdos and associate with them. At some point, I realized those people are doing the same job at 45 that they were doing at 25 and I don’t HAVE to be one of them. I’m not hopeless. People actually do like me if I don’t jump all over them with sarcasm and faux-inferiority/superiority (the type of I’m-better-than-you-because-I-don’t-play-the-game attitude. I’ll wear cords and narrowly toe the dress code! I’ll leave at 4:00!) That really got me nowhere. I’m much better off now.

                2. Amouse*

                  I dunno…..comparing Monty Python to Seth McFarlane gross-out type humour? I consider Monty Python to be in a much higher caliber, different era as well and different type of social commentary. Almost every Family Guy I’ve ever watched will be funny to a point and then reaches past that into crude and i just can’t get into it. I’ve never been offended by Monty Python humour because it tends to be cleverly done. But that’s just an opinion hence why humour is subjective.

            5. fposte*

              I was trying to make hay out of the Bleak House reference, but that didn’t get me very far.

              But I found the letter absolutely plausible and not particularly heinous, just somebody who really hadn’t gained that extra inch of perspective to see over the mountains. And I bet there are people who really do enjoy her at work, and that that adds to her enjoyment as well. It’s just that that’s not the significant thing here.

  25. Jen in RO*

    If the boss said tone it down, tone it down. But I would love to have OP on my team, she/he sounds like a lot of fun! Sometimes management requests are so ridiculous they deserve to be made fun of. (Not in front of the respective managers, of course…) If I couldn’t snark at work, I would be much, much angrier when I come home.

  26. Parfait*

    I am pretty sarcastic by nature as well, but having to keep a lid on that at work has actually helped me in my personal life. Nobody likes a complainer, even if the complainer is witty. Nobody likes to be insulted, even if they laugh along with you. When you speak contemptuously of others, you actually start to FEEL more contemptuous.

    When I don’t constantly make cutting remarks about the shortcomings of others, I actually feel LESS irritated by those shortcomings. How about that.

    My last long-term relationship was ruined, in part, by mutual excessive sarcasm. Now I’m dating a wonderful man and I don’t put him down, even in jest, and things are pretty much fabulous.

    I heartily recommend the mental exercise of retraining your brain to avoid this. Ultimately sarcasm is a lazy form of humor. Oh, you said the opposite of what you really meant, in an obnoxious tone of voice? How original. Try to be funny in other ways.

    1. Andy Lester*

      When you speak contemptuously of others, you actually start to FEEL more contemptuous.

      And then that contempt comes out in your manner. Even if you keep your mouth shut that you think that person X is an idiot, people around you can still tell. We’ve all had a spouse or loved one say “Hey, what’s wrong, something’s bothering you” without us having said anything, right? People don’t need verbal cues to know what’s what.

  27. MH*

    You may think this sarcasm is well loved by your colleagues, but one day it’s more than likely you’ll want to move on to another job for another employer where they don’t act like this. I’ve you continue with this manner of speaking with your colleagues, the chances are you will damage your your future job prospects (Imagine the reference your boss could give so you don’t get that dream job), or your new workplace get rid of you because of your ‘bad attitude’ when you start acting like this elsewhere.

    It’s not coming across as big or clever, your boss has twice asked you to stop, heed the good advice whilst you still can.

  28. Yup*

    I have an extremely snarky sense of humor. On a sarcasm scale of 10, I go to 11. Here are the rules for sarcasm with general audiences. OK in the workplace: mocking yourself or neutral outside situations (like someone doing something stupid on reality TV.) Not OK in the workplace: mocking clients, colleagues, or bosses.

    Please sincerely consider Alison’s very good advice. The people you work with (especially the ones in charge) need to see you as a competent, hard-working person who displays good judgment in your job. But the kind of joking around you describe in your letter is making you appear disrespectful and uncooperative to them instead. Your coworkers may find you hilarious, but they don’t write your paychecks — the “Ding Dongs Merrily on High” do.

    1. Just a Reader*

      *Your coworkers may find you hilarious, but they don’t write your paychecks — the “Ding Dongs Merrily on High” do.*

      I think the tone of this “nickname” sums up what people are reacting to. It smacks of disrespect, which is not only very unfunny, but puts colleagues in a precarious position just by being around someone when they say something like that.

      1. Patti*

        From the way it sounds, they are pretty much making a mockery of the management team, and the company in general. I don’t blame the manager for trying to put a stop to it, and it sounds like it’s already gone on way longer than it should have.

  29. Erica B*

    When I read this letter, I immediately got the sense that this person is young, because anyone who has been in the work force more more than a few years would see that the behavior is inappropriate in the quantities that the OP is saying is happening. There was a post earlier up that said, he would find it extremely hard to work with this person because of the annoying factor and I tend to agree.

    Last summer we went on vacation with my in-laws and my FIL always had a snarky comment about everything and it was crazy annoying and frustrating. But we kept our mouths shut, because nothing was ever hurtful or really mean. It just made it hard to have any time of conversation. I kept thinking that I wish he would just say something normal in response to something is simple as, “The sun is yellow.”

    I know I have a problem that I can way too chatty when I am around my coworkers (most of my days are spent by myself driving around the state for work). I have to keep an eye on myself and try diligently to respect that other people don’t really want to hear me- even though they don’t tell me this!

    1. Natalie*

      You really never can tell about the age – my former manager (moved on to another company, thank god) was incredibly negative and sarcastic and often made mean or dismissive comments about clients, the company, and her superiors. Another manager that is somewhat easily led would join in. Their boss was aware of it and would occasionally comment on it, but never took a firm hand to make it stop. All of the managers involved were at least 50.

      1. Erica B*

        I didn’t think of it from the POV that this person has been like this for such a long time and are surprised that it is suddenly a problem, being middle-aged is definitely a valid guess too.

    2. Rana*

      I feel you on the constantly “joking” thing. I’ve known a few people like that, and they tire me out. I don’t mind joking around, and I’m fine with teasing when I know it’s teasing and not meant to be mean, but non-stop? No matter what the occasion? No. It gets old really, really fast.

      (I have similar issues with my MIL’s husband; he likes to make “jokes” out of all kinds of things, and to do it in ways that depend on you being the butt of the joke. It’s really irritating to respond thoughtfully to something he says, only to learn that he was pulling your leg and is now amused that you were gullible enough to take him seriously. And, of course, if you attempt do the same thing back, he’s horribly offended. Needless to say, I talk to him as little as possible now.)

    3. BW*

      I wouldn’t assume the person is young. I have experience middle-aged, experienced workers behaving like this.

      On that note, reading over the discussion about the names, it reminded me of a middle-aged woman I worked with. She would totally use names and words like “Dipstick”, “Bubblehead” and “Ding-dong Merrily on Highs”, and her sarcastic response to a requests she thought were stupid or didn’t like was “But I don’t want to.” I don’t think it’s the same person, but it’s really eerie!

  30. Colette*

    As others have said, the constant sarcasm/immaturity/failure to let things go sounds like something that not everyone likes or is comfortable with.

    But the other big issue with this kind of thing is that if you’re always looking for the joke – “us vs. them”, as AAM said – you’re blinding yourself to the value of what you’re being told. You’re assuming there is no value – and that’s no way to have a satisfying job. If you have as much influence as you think you have, you’re also making it harder for management to make necessary changes, and that’s no way to keep a job.

    1. Liz T*

      A really important point! Far too many intelligent people get so into mocking authority figures that they don’t actually consider whether or not their actions might have merit.

  31. Omne*

    It can cause a lot of problems if your job changes as well and your habits are set. I have a sarcastic streak but I usually moderated it effectively on the job. I was promoted into a management position that involved being in charge of previous peers that I interacted with daily. On my first day, in the first 5 minutes, I made an offhand comment that wouldn’t have been a problem the day before but really hurt someone coming from her boss. I was chewed out (justifiably) by one of her coworkers, who was also one of my new subordinates, a few minutes later. It’s a lesson I never forgot and it’s an area I always cover when mentoring. I’m just glad that person had the courage to tell me flat out what I did wrong.

    1. Amouse*

      Ok but the subordinate should not have been allowed to “chew you out”. The appropriate way to address this with a manager normally would be to privately clue you in that the comment was hurtful to the co-worker couched in “I’m sure you probably didn’t mean to offend anyone but…”

          1. Allypel*

            Yeah, to me it seemed like one of those sobering, “teachable moment”-type chewing outs where the boss should have known better. In the long run, it can do the manager a big favor. It’s managing up. Sometimes for your boss to know they’re making a mistake that affects you professionally, you have to initiate unpleasant conversations. Good bosses welcome it, as long as it’s constructive and positively framed. Not yelling but stating, “When you said that sarcastic comment, I felt upset because blah blah,” and saying where you’re coming from. It’s even better for a boss to create an environment where his/her reports feel comfortable coming to you when you’ve inadvertently done something that has diminished morale or affected performance.

  32. some1*

    This letter reminded me of that old Rob Schneider SNL skit, where he plays the guy next to the copy machine who made fun of everyone’s name: “RICH! The Richmeister! Making copies!”

  33. Lilybell*

    My former boss (young woman only a few years older than I was) used to jokingly tease me all the time. It didn’t bother me at all. But the ONE TIME I gently teased her (it wasn’t even about something she did- it was a hypothetical situation) she called me into her office and yelled at me for being insubordinate. I seriously thought she was kidding; I was flabbergasted when I realized she wasn’t. I then went into super-professional mode at all times. I was polite but not warm or friendly and she then started asking me why I wasn’t fun any more. Sigh.

    I asked for a transfer and ended up getting promoted and moved to a different dept (without boss knowing it was coming). Boss was floored when she found out and tried everything to get me to stay with her. I told her that I wanted a boss with whom I didn’t have to walk on eggshells and she tried to apologize and said she overreacted. Nope, too late. Then she had the nerve a week later to ask me to spend the weekend babysitting her monster of a child while she went out of town. Oh, and did I mention it would be for free? I did it for her all the time when she was my boss but it was such a great moment to be able to turn her down without guilt. She complained to my new boss (higher level than her) and my boss told her to get over herself and leave me alone.

    Anyway, I agree to tone it down. It might seem unfair but since when do we expect fairness at work?

      1. Jamie*

        If she had done it once she’d be more generous than I.

        I’m with K – wow. And good for Lilybell on getting out from under.

      2. Liz T*

        Bosses can have a way of doing that. A friend of mine worked as a man’s assistant–not a personal assistant, it was all work stuff–out of the man’s home. The man was going out of town for a week, and asked my friend to dogsit, and offered to pay him in champagne. The apartment was really nice, and my friend thought it sounded like fun, and had people over (not a rager, just a gathering). The boss then asked him to do the same every time he was out of town–minus the champagne. My friend felt weird saying no, and ended up doing it even though it was often a hassle.

        I guess that’s an example of Foot in the Door Technique–you get someone to agree to a small favor, and then they’re more likely to agree to a large one.

  34. Patti*

    Is your sense of “humor” and having fun really more important to you than your job? Obviously, the boss says “that’s enough”, so…. that’s enough. Turn it off and get the job done. You aren’t getting paid to be funny (although I’m sure there is some debate over if you are actually funny).

    I have a ridiculously sarcastic sense of humor, as do most of my favorite people, but I don’t believe that Snark is one of our inalienable rights.

    Alison, good advice, as always.

    1. Patti*

      P.S., I just had to discipline my 11-year-old son for this exact issue. He ALWAYS has a sarcastic or snarky reply for every comment that someone makes. At times, it’s funny (he is his mother’s son), but he doesn’t know when to turn it off, or when it’s inappropriate. I repeat… he’s 11.

      1. Jamie*

        I had one of those! A couple years of fine tuning the humor quotient and development of the appropriateness meter and you end up with a 17 year old who is wicked funny…but doesn’t make you cringe.

        It’s worth the process :)

        1. Patti*

          Thank you for saying that… because he’s really making me long for one of those cultures who marry their kids off when they’re this age. Of course, I couldn’t tell you where those cultures might be, because according to his Social Studies homework, I’m an idiot.

          1. A Bug!*

            I was on the receiving end of the “attitude” lecture when I was about that age. See, I was starting to be exposed to older, smarter humor but wasn’t wise enough to tell the difference between something that’s funny and something that’s just mean. It didn’t take long to develop into a full-blown habit. I didn’t actually mean anything by it, but I had no real understanding of how my words affected others who weren’t always in on the joke or necessarily in the mood for it.

            (FYI, “bite me” is not an appropriate response to your dad when he asks you to do a chore, even if you say it as you get up to go do that chore. Contrary to what you might think – if you are ten years old – it is not a hilarious contrast between words and actions.)

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, I was a smartmouthed kid, and my parents were more tolerant of me than my adult self would be.

              But I also think that there’s a certain pleasure in verbal facility behind this, both in the kids and in the OP. There’s a lot of admiration for clever wordsmithing and good satire, and a lot of people would love to be, say, Jon Stewart. The thing is, something can be phraseologically well turned and admired by confreres but still an unhelpful thing to say in the circumstances. I don’t see the Algonquin Round Table faring well as support staff, you know?

              1. Jamie*

                “I don’t see the Algonquin Round Table faring well as support staff, you know?”

                Talk about clever wordsmithing! My hat is off to you – that’s excellent.

              2. Patti*

                Absolutely. Sometimes I just crack up when I’m talking to him, sometimes, it just pisses me off, and sometimes I have to pretend to be pissed off when he’s done something hilarious, but inappropriate to the situation/circumstances.

                Now… off to Google Algonquin Round Table. I’ll be back.

        2. HR Gorilla*

          Patti and Jamie, you give me hope! My 9-year-old son is taking cues from all the smart-aleck kid actors on Disney, CartoonNetwork, et al…and it’s driving me crazy.

          He can now finish the following sentence for me, right on cue: “Just because Sam on iCarly makes fun of all her friends, does not mean it’s funny or okay in real life.” I’ve restricted him from watching tv too, to drive home the point that nobody gets to talk to people like that in real life. I repeat…he’s 9. ;)

          1. A Bug!*

            I heard on the radio this morning about a recent study that suggests that something like 90% of television aimed at young kids contains significant social aggression, both verbal and physical. Further, the aggression often went unpunished, was not framed in a way that viewers were intended to disapprove of it, and was primarily committed by people considered “attractive” in the context of the television show.

            It’s really no surprise, then, that you get people growing up thinking sarcasm and meanness is normal.

          2. Patti*

            I especially cringe sometimes when he tells me “funny stories”, which usually include something rude that he said to one of his friends, or vice versa. I know they’re boys, and his friends haven’t started bailing on him yet, but, no… you really can’t talk to people like that in real life. Respect isn’t just for people who are older than you.

          3. Jesicka309*

            My sister is the same! It’s taken us over 5 years to drum into her that she can’t act like the teens on The OC or Greys Anatomy. Granted, she’s not clever enough to be snarky, and is just a complete bitchy drama queen. Ugh, tv these days.

  35. some1*

    Sadly, I can see a little early-career some1 in this letter. I can be a total smart aleck in general, but I learned to save my remarks for outside work.

    Most of the other commenters have addressed what I was going to say, the only thing I would add is that I understand how frustrating it is and how defensive it can make you when (it feels like) your manager suddenly finds fault with something you thought was your strength. And yes, I can empathize with the fact that you feel unfairly singled out if a lot of people are making the same kinds of jokes. However, this has happened at every job I have ever had. Sometimes managers single people out for reasons we don’t understand (though I think there’s some merit to the ringleader idea). Please let go of what you feel is the unfairness of this situation and realize your boss asked you to do something.

  36. nyxalinth*

    The OP strikes me as someone young, without a lot of experience in how the real world works, and who has probably been a bit over-indulged (“Boss said stop, but I don’t wanna, please tell me she’s just a big meanie!”). Also, I wonder if they aren’t unhappy in their job. If you have to be sarcastic to make yourself happy at work, you need a new job.*

    *I know it isn’t that easy, I mean this in general, not in an “OMG you suck, stop working there now!’ way.

    1. Hari*

      If OP is in fact a ringleader and is being the only one reprimanded then their views of “Omg this boss is so mean” is probably being validated by their ” co-worker cronies” who encourage the behavior.

      But sometimes shared sarcasm is the only way to get through somesituations. Especially when it comes to ridiculous requests like when you are on a middle of nowhere shoot and the client keeps complaining about certain condiments coming with their sandwich (which is being delivered from town, an hour away) when the condiments aren’t even on the sandwich they are in packets!! That client got ridiculed for days past.

  37. Student*

    This letter hints at harassment concerns.

    If I heard co-workers referred to as “Bubblehead” and “Dipstick” I would immediately assume that “bubblehead” was an insult to that person’s intelligence and “dipstick” was a crude anatomical reference.

    Frankly, calling the management chain “Ding dongs on high” also makes me think that the letter-writer is throwing around sexual references very freely. I kind of doubt that this was a reference to the snack food. Your manager might be worried (rightly!) about you creating a hostile work environment or about sexual harassment.

    1. Jamie*

      I think ding-dong is just slang for dummy or knucklehead. At least that’s how I’d interpret it.

      Disrespectful and a really bad idea – absolutely. Sexual harassment? I couldn’t make that stretch.

      1. K.*

        “Ding-Dong Merrily On High” is a Christmas carol.

        And in third grade, Mr. L., who remains to this day one of the finest teachers I’ve ever had, heard someone calling someone else a dipstick and taught us all about how you check the oil in a car with a dipstick. People stopped using it as an insult after that – it became one more boring thing grownups used to do boring grownup stuff. I’ve never heard the term used in a sexual way.

    2. Amouse*

      I have never heard “dipstick” used in a sexual way. It means the equivalent of “dimwit” or “dummie” in any way I have ever heard it used. “Ding dong” also…sure it may have been derived from something sexual way way back but it’s used as a jab at someone being “dumb” I don’t think sexual harassment is at play here but i could be wrong…

        1. Student*

          That’s lovely that wikipedia has a formal article on how one is allowed to interpret this insult. However, when I hear an insult to a co-worker, I do not consult Wikipedia nor do I consult Christmas carols. I usually assume the worst possible spin. And I am staggered that the person in the other comment could suggest the “ding dongs on high” phrase is a reference to a carol about bells, given the context. It is a double entendre that is phrased that way in order to redirect or pre-empt complaints, it is most definitely derogatory, and it is not an attempt to call the management bells nor snack cakes.

          I recognize an insult as an insult, which is at minimum rather hostile (not hostile as in the legal problem, hostile as in the common usage). I don’t really care much to hear the attacker’s justifications nor the victim’s justifications for why he or she deserved it or is okay with it. I don’t care about the origin or proper use of the insult – it is not relevant. I mind because it I might be the next recipient of a nickname. I mind it because I don’t enjoy seeing other people belittle other people or themselves. I mind it because it is obnoxious in a work environment – by work’s nature, there are few options to simply leave uncomfortable situations.

          1. Jamie*

            No one is arguing that it’s not an insult. Of course it is – and it’s not nice.

            But there is a lot to be said for intent and common usage when talking about whether something falls into the realm of sexual harassment.

            I take sexual harassment very seriously, and if someone came to me complaining that hearing someone called a Ding-Dong or a dipstick fell into that category I would send them to HR per procedure, but I would think it was silly. Colloquially those are just not sexual terms so it’s a real stretch to find intent to sexually harass in using them.

            I’d expect to hear those words used in cartoons aimed at pre-schoolers before an adult using them in a sexual manner.

            This could be a YMMV issue depending on regional differences. Maybe there are places where those are sexual terms – but not where I live and I’m assuming not where Amouse or K. live either.

            1. Amouse*

              Yes! Wow Student no one said that those weren’t insults just that accusing Sexual harassment is a huge deal and I really don’t see it present in this situation in any way, shape or form.

              The reason for the wikipedia article was to clarify what the insult means and how it’s commonly used. This is highly relevant because you’ve assumed something very serious here (sexual harassment) by referring to the terms “dipstick” and ding-dong” as sexual references. They’re not. At least not in any definition that is common to western society.

              You’re way off base here in my opinion.

              1. Amouse*

                Oh and the wikipedia article? It’s outlining the literal definition and the way in which that term is used when used in an insulting context not how “how one is allowed to interpret this insult.”

                1. Allypel*

                  The “student” handle at least suggests a willingness to learn, no? I’m having trouble with the meta-sarcasm that this sarcasm discussion has introduced. My brain hurts. Could it be…bubbleheadedness?

                  Oh lordy. I need to go home.

                2. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater*

                  LOL! This whole “is it sexual or is it not?” argument reminds me of the Friends episode where Joey is said to be able to make any phrase sound dirty. He even says “Mom’s apple pie” in a way that makes it sound like a come on. :-D

                  I think the fact that some people see dipstick and ding-dong as sexual insults speaks more to their state of mind than it does about those who dares utter the words.

            2. K.*

              And I am staggered that the person in the other comment could suggest the “ding dongs on high” phrase is a reference to a carol about bells, given the context.
              I’m the “person in the other comment,” and of course I recognize that “ding-dongs on high” is meant as an insult. However, I simply don’t think it’s meant in a sexual way. When I read the OP’s letter, I immediately thought that the insult s/he used is derived from the Christmas carol. The carol is called “Ding-Dongs Merrily on High.” A “ding-dong” is a common (at least in my experience) term for “dimwit.” The OP is getting what s/he deems foolish requests from the higher-ups at his/her office. Foolish requests from foolish (in his/her opinion) people who outrank him/her = ding-dongs merrily on high. So no, I didn’t think the OP was speaking of actual, literal bells and yes, I recognized that it was an insult, but it doesn’t read as sexual to me at all, frankly.

              I suffered through harassment at work in my late teens; I get it. I don’t see it here. Mileage clearly varies.

          2. Joey*

            C’mon we’ve all heard “put your lipstick on my dipstick” right? Although that’s not the context it was used in this case.

          3. KellyK*

            I am staggered that the person in the other comment could suggest the “ding dongs on high” phrase is a reference to a carol about bells, given the context.

            But the actual phrase was “ding dongs merrily on high.” It’s a quote straight from the Christmas carol that makes no sense without it. (A generic “those ding dongs in management” would make sense, but “merrily” is not just weird but grammatically wrong when “ding dong” is used as a noun.)

            That’s not to say that it might not also be a double entendre, but it’s undoubtedly a reference to the Christmas carol.

            For what it’s worth, assuming people are making sexual references with every possible comment isn’t really constructive, because *every* statement can be an innuendo if you’re thinking about it that way.

            It was a rude comment either way, without any sexual overtones required.

            1. Allypel*

              “(A generic ‘those ding dongs in management’ would make sense, but ‘merrily’ is not just weird but grammatically wrong when ‘ding dong’ is used as a noun.)”

              Generally agree but “merrily” makes sense and isn’t grammatically incorrect. “Merrily” modifies the act of being “on high,” not the “ding dongs.” “Ding dongs merry on high” makes much less sense. “Ding dongs [who *are*] merrily on high.”

    3. The IT Manager*

      I’m with student that I see “dipstick” as potentially an anotomical reference. Maybe it’s not meant to be, but it’s the first option that comes to my mind.

      … Like the time my Mom told her elementary school students not to wear “thongs” on a field trip. It exlicited giggles from her students and me when she described it. I know what she meant (flip flops), but I am pretty sure that they did not. Generational differences and cultural differences can make a difference. You don’t want to be on the wrong end of that at work.

      1. TL*

        Um, as a young 20s person, with a very dirty mind and sense of humor – I’ve never heard or assumed dipstick to be sexual in any way. In fact, it’s rarely used by any of my friends. (My mom says it, which is the only reason I ever use it.)
        And ding-dong – I always thought that came either from the junk food or from the doorbell. (Like, Ding-dong! Look who finally got it!)
        Really. I’ve never heard any of them with any sort of remotely sexual connotation.

    4. Jen in RO*

      If the coworkers in question have no problem with the nicknames… why is it anyone else’s problem? My coworker calls me Derpy all the time (she’s Herpy). Insulting? Slightly (if you speak lolcat). Do we love it? Yes we do, and I sure hope no one comes over to tell us we’re not allowed to make fun of each other!

    5. Kelly O*

      I think “Ding dongs on high” plays more off “ding, dong, merrily on high, Christmas bells are ringing” than any subversive sexual message.

      Dipstick is most likely a more workplace-friendly way of saying dipshit. Which I guess is something…

      1. fposte*

        That’s my thought; “ding dong” is also kind of a mild mid-century insult akin to “doofus.”

        That doesn’t mean those words couldn’t be involved in sexual harassment, because any words could be involved in sexual harassment. But they aren’t words that could create it on their own without context.

  38. Diane*

    If interviews are like dating, work is like cohabitation (not marriage–thank God there’s no “til death do us part” with our jobs). I’ve had this very discussion with my cohabitant, who was “just expressing” himself and “just telling the truth.” But sarcasm shares a fuzzy line with mean spiritedness, which boarders on personal attack. When humor hurts once, it’s a misunderstanding. When it’s part of a pattern, it’s a huge problem. We’re figuring it out, thankfully, because we’re both loving and patient enough to call each other on the small stuff that can erode a relationship. Your employer does not have to do that for you. You’ve had the grace of two clear messages. Be nice, or go find another sandbox.

  39. NewReader*

    I love the comments here, a wide range of advice.
    It’s true people who have a quick come back, can be at a loss as to how to go about regular normal conversation. It takes time. And you have to want to learn.

    I had to learn to fling it with the best of them in a previous job. It was horrible, every day I dreaded work. I had no desire to socialize with anyone after hours, I just wanted to get away from it all. No subject was taboo, there were no filters, words just flew every which way.

    Some people felt that it made a more productive work environment. The truth was there were A LOT of mistakes and redos. There was a lot of sick time being used up. In the end it was soul sucking.
    OP, see the problem is the steady stream of sarcasm. A sliver in your finger for a day or two is something you just work through. Picture that sliver still being in your finger a year or two later. It is the persistence of that sliver that becomes the problem.

    Obviously, you have a quick wit. Learn to use your quick wit in a productive manner. It can be an asset in some ways.
    Sarcasm can be used as a shield, a protective wall. In extreme cases, it can make a person unteachable, unmanageable. This is not a good road to start down OP. It will hurt you in the long run.

      1. Twentymilehike*

        Yes I was wondering when when “NewReader” was going to become “OldReader” .. Or at least “RegularReader” :)

          1. Kelly O*

            The Reader Who Until Recently Was New But is Now Regular, But Not in the Jamie Lee Curtis Activia Sort of Way.

            Which is cumbersome, I get, but still…

            1. Jamie*

              She’s never getting referenced or quoted with a screen name that is 88 characters long. We’d have to call her TRWURWNBINRBNITJLCASOW.

              I’ll tell you right now, I’ll never remember that.

              Then again you and I both graduated from the school of literal screen names…

              1. Elise*

                That’s when Monty Python can be helpful. TRWURWNBINRBNITJLCASOW could be called “Reader who until recently was New”.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        You know I was thinking about a new name… so I will borrow your words. I will add “Not So” to NewReader. I never thought about the name over time…

        Thank you for your kind words. Alison. And thank you for this blog. Some of my jobs have been really rocky roads. Some of it was because of me and some of it was because of the job. My point is that reading this blog has done more to ease my mind about “ancient history” than anything else I have tried so far.

        Reading and writing here has allowed me (or forced me?) to focus on all that I have learned and seen. The writers here have given me words for stuff that I could not put into words before. (Easier to think in pictures.)
        I get on this blog and I am worse than a hungry kid in a grocery store. I just want to read everything all at once. Keep up the good work. In your own unique way you are helping to build the economy up again.

          1. twentymilehike*

            Not So NewReader does it again!

            Is anyone else getting warm fuzzies from this post? I’m sending everyone an e-hug, unless of course you’re one of the non-huggers and an e-handshakes should suffice.

            And brownies for Jamie.

            But seriously, AAM, you and everyone here are like my aweful-day-at-work and I-hate-my-job-key-board-smashing-day-at-work support group.

            1. LL100*

              yes, but instead of e-hugs I’m sending positive energy :)
              AAM is one of the things I look forward to each day.

        1. khilde*

          “The writers here have given me words for stuff that I could not put into words before. (Easier to think in pictures.)”

          Yes. This is it. This is why your examples are so good (aside from the hard-earned wisdom): because you’re really good at painting pictures with your examples. Like the sliver in the finger example. You have a way of giving examples that are really relatable to something we’ve all experienced. That skill is rare and valuable.

  40. Hari*

    I wouldn’t jump to say OP is annoying his co-workers as it seems they are not the only one instigating it. However I totally agree that it would be best then to make sure to reign it back when the boss is around. That way if the problem just really is the boss, OP doesn’t get anymore flack and the boss can start bringing in others for “chats” if its still a problem. On the other hand you will know if its actually a co-worker complaining if OP is mum around the boss but its still getting back to them. Regardless I would reign it back to status quo so I wouldn’t be the one perceived as the ringleader.

    The boss however doesn’t seem like the best manager type to begin with. It’s not good to endorse certain behavior sometimes then punish it others. Since they are in a position of power they need to draw clear lines. Even if the OP’s boss is trying to reform their own behavior the conversation needs to go like “Even though I joined in the past, moving forward I don’t think it is appropriate in a professional environment.” It really can’t be appropriate sometimes and not others or you will send mix messages (which is probably the reason OP mentioned it depends on her mood).

    Also even if OP is the ringleader this needs to be a conversation that includes everyone. A ringleader wouldn’t be as vocal or confident if they didn’t have their “cronies” to back them up or reassure them. This way everyone knows this behavior needs to stop and the one’s fanning the flames with “That ol’ mean boss, you are fine” will know that they are being held accountable as well. My general feeling from that wasn’t that the OP was trying to justify behaviors so much as they feel picked on.

    I don’t think all snark is bad, in fact, a lot of the times making fun of the situation can be the only way to lighten the mood. Constant snark can be negative but so can a constant amount of anything (i.e. too much of a good thing and it gets old). I’ve come from a work environment where it has been balanced and I could snark away with my boss and co-workers but we also knew when to zip it and not drag things out. It seems like at OP’s work there is no balance and its seems like its getting past the point of no return for balance and probably has to stop altogether.

    1. Natalie*

      “However I totally agree that it would be best then to make sure to reign it back when the boss is around. That way if the problem just really is the boss, OP doesn’t get anymore flack and the boss can start bringing in others for “chats” if its still a problem.”

      This approach has a pretty significant risk – the OP has already been spoken to about this twice. If the co-workers have been complaining to the boss, the 3rd time OP gets a talking-to may be a termination.

      1. Hari*

        Well that’s true that’s why I also said, “Regardless I would reign it back to status quo so I wouldn’t be the one perceived as the ringleader.” So I wouldn’t stop myself from chiming in but I wouldn’t be the one to ever instigate or take it further. That way OP wouldn’t be held responsible for something someone else started. OP could really make a case of unfair treatment to HR if they were the only ones in the group to get reprimanded.

        Although I feel OP needs to tone it down, I do think the manager has their share of blame as well for how they are handling it. Unfortunately its up to OP to navigate this as they have more to loose in this situation.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The OP said she does it more than anyone else, which is probably why the manager talked to her about it.

          (And HR wouldn’t likely have a problem with that; they’re going to trust the manager’s judgment in handling something like this.)

          1. Hari*

            Exactly. So if from here on OP only echoed what others were saying without instigating (especially when the manager wasn’t around) then there would be no reason for the manager to continue to think they were the ringleader. That’s what I meant. It would force the manger’s hand to address it as a group issue if it really was that and not just OP.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Not necessarily. At this point the OP has been talked to twice. If she continues (even if it’s only echoing others), the manager would be justified in treating that as a third strike.

              1. Hari*

                Ohhhh. See I’m going off the assumption that its mostly OPs behavior of taking it too far or not knowing when to stop/when its appropriate than just the fact that its happening at all. I figured that was the case if no one else was reprimanded and then at times the manger too is in on it.

            2. Jamie*

              This is risky.

              If you’re known for starting food fights in the cafeteria, and you’ve been talked to about this by the principal – twice – and then there’s another food fight you didn’t start but as the principal walks in you had just tossed a handful of mashed potatoes…

              You’re getting expelled before the instigator of this one. Reputation accounts for a lot and most managers are not going to parse out which comment started the snarkfest…they are going to fall back on the fact that you were told to stop and you continued.

              What they do with other people is irrelevant to the OP. She was told to stop. Twice. She needs to either stop or accept that there can be serious consequences to continuing.

              1. Hari*

                Because OP mentioned the manager doesn’t reprimand anyone else yet has joined in at times I’m thinking its more of OP not knowing limits (especially if they are doing it most). There’s definitely different ways to view the problem, especially since we don’t have the info. But the situation I see is more of it being okay to have food fights sometimes but when OP does it constantly and then starts throwing trays and other non-food objects as well, is when they are pushing limits.

            3. Natalie*

              YMMV, but in my experience once the OP has been identified as the ringleader it can be very hard to shed that label. If the manager approaches the OP and their co-workers all snarking over some customer, is the manager going to ask “who started this?” Probably not – they’re just going to assume the OP is back at it after having been warned twice.

              1. Hari*

                Definitely agree with that. However OP said they were never told to stop, just to “be careful”. Actually re-reading OP’s message, I think it might be the managers way of trying to tell OP to tone it down without having to bring down the hammer on the whole thing and “ruining all the fun” (especially since they too participate) for everyone. So I take back being as critical of how the manager is handling it. They were specific enough on some issues that needed to be fixed (name calling, even if mutual) so I don’t see why they wouldn’t come out and say clearly to stop (and not just to OP) if snark in general was the issue.

                Unfortunately you cant really teach people social nuances, so this is why OP is probably confused about mix messages and their manager being hot and cold. If general office snark was really the problem OP wouldn’t be the only one getting the flack for it. I think this is a case of just taking it too far.

                1. JPT*

                  You also have to think of what managers have to deal with. It could be that person’s boss who was offended by something, or someone in that workspace was, and the manager has just been told to talk to them about it. I know there are times when I’m instructing my direct reports to do or not do something MY bosses had me pass down, and it really has nothing to do with what I think. Maybe the wrong person heard something and the message was, “you need to talk to X about X.” Not uncommon.

          2. Kelly O*

            I heard a story this morning on our local news (Houston) about how many employees feel their issues are resolved when they handle it themselves or with their direct manager, versus how many felt things were resolved by going to their HR department.

            The HR number was staggeringly low, and the person speaking was of the opinion that by bringing something formally to HR, you begin to force yourself into this chain of paperwork and potential legal repercussions being perceived. So things don’t necessarily get resolved because there is a fear about moving forward and all possible outcomes. Trying to handle it in the department or between individuals actually can lead to a better discussion and more opportunity for resolution. (Paraphrasing.)

            It was an interesting piece I wish I could have sat down to watch, but seems appropriate in light of the discussion.

  41. Snow*

    I love snark, but I worked with someone who was constantly snarking and undermining our superiors’ decisions with his comments. Too much snark can create a hostile work environment – and just breed overall negativity.

    I totally agree OP needs to chill out on the snark.

  42. KarenT*

    The fact that your boss partook in the sarcasm and even laughs at it makes me wonder what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s very possible her boss told her to have it cut out, or perhaps people have gone to your manager and told her that you’ve offended them or crossed a line.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Another possibility I thought of is maybe the manager only “pretends not to get it or to be so far above it all” when the OP goes too far into personal attacks or meanness, but the OP is unable to recognize it because OP is unable to recognize that anything she says in inappropriate.

  43. Elizabeth West*

    There are so many comments on this no one will probably see mine, but I had to point out, it DOES make a difference. I used to be the Negative Nelly at work. Even if people knew I was kidding, it still did not help anything. If the wrong person had overheard me, whoa baby. Once I was finally told to cheese it and I did, it changed EVERYTHING.

    Also, it helped me. I stopped focusing on the bad stuff and it took my anxiety level way down. My manager made a point of telling me other people had praised my change. When the company cut my position and I was laid off, it was emphasized that it was NOT because of performance.

    A lot of people view sarcasm as negative, because of its very nature. It comes off as mean or complaining to people who don’t get it and you really can’t assume, even if it’s the norm in the office, that everyone does. Your boss may just be getting tired of it. From everyone.

    1. fposte*

      I was really hoping you’d weigh in–I’ve always been very impressed with the way you talk about facing this in yourself and making this change. It’s hard to realize how much that is “just the way we are” is changeable, and it’s even harder to actually make it happen.

    2. Kelly O*

      Just wanted to post an encouraging word. I really relate to what you say in many of your posts, and this is another time I agree completely.

    3. ThatAlice*

      You gave me hope where I felt none existed. I had a (30+) who thought her snark was uniquely witty and hilariously uplifting, whereas most of the rest of us wondered why she hadn’t been fired. Her open insubordination (regularly calling her managers and the university administration “idiots”) and chronic dismissal of users (she is a database admin) wore very, very thin. It brought the rest of us down, especially because we knew how much her attitude contributed to a view of our IT department as hostile. She thought she was the bees knees. I am no longer there, but like a cockroach that survives nuclear annihilation (her direct manager, as well as the CIO, retired), she is. I really am heartened to hear that people can grow more effective in their communication.

      1. ThatAlice*

        Oh, forgot to add that I also had a Boss from Hell like this. But she was a true bully. She, too, managed to stay on, because she was close to the director. Universities!!

    4. Elizabeth West*

      Thanks, you guys! :)

      I’m not as experienced or knowledgeable as Alison or even many of you, but I am glad to think my struggles are even a tiny bit helpful to someone. Makes them seem less pointless. :)

  44. LOLwut*

    Here’s a question somewhat related. I’ve been with my company for two months and have a boss that seems to enjoy joking about firing me. He may be joking, he may be serious, but is this at all appropriate, especially since, like I said, I’ve been here all of two months? How do I handle this?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sit down with him and say, “I’m not sure how to take your comments about firing me. You’ve said it in passing, so I assume it wasn’t meant seriously, but I can’t hear things like that without being concerned.”

      1. perrik*

        “Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”

        I’d rather work for Dread Pirate Roberts than most of the supervisors we read about in these posts…

    2. Wilton Businessman*

      Nice environment. He must be a real peach to work for.

      I would sit down with your manager and just lay it on the line. Something like…

      “Look, I know I’m the new guy and everything, but if you are truly concerned about my performance I would like to know about it so I can exceed your expectations.”

      … and wait. If there is any truth to him firing you and he’s not a coward, he will address those concerns. If he doesn’t have any doubts about your ability, he’s going to feel like a jerk (assuming he has a conscience).

      Or he’s an ass and it will continue.

    3. some1*

      My boss at my old job was let go, and the company restructured the dept into two sections, and my co-worker and friend was promoted to supervise my 1/2. I really liked and respected the boss who was let go, so I was really on edge the day it happened, to say the least. When I congratulated my friend, I said I was happy for her promotion but sad about the reason. That’s when she made a joke about firing me. As you can guess, she was NOT my favorite boss ever.

  45. EngineerGirl*

    I see so much wrong here. Snark almost always is about making fun of someone – at their expense. It is, to put it bluntly, disrespectful. It is also mean. There, I said it – MEAN. Like in 13 year old school girls bullying some poor innocent because they aren’t perfect.

    OP, that is how you are coming across. Juvenile. Mean. Did you ever consider that some people are laughing out of embarassment?

    Instead of making fun of your customers, why not help them? Instead of making fun of management (yikes!) why not help them? Technically, helping your customers and management are part of your job duties. So actually doing your job will help ensure that you keep it.

    I’d agree with other commenters that are thinking your job is on the line. Stop now. Because it may already be too late.

    1. Jen in RO*

      But sometimes customers are assholes. Or lazy. Or rude. Sometimes managers are just incompetent and won’t accept help. Come on, can’t we at least recognize that some of them deserve it? Don’t make fun of them to their faces, of course, but snarking with your coworkers is perfectly normal.

      Going overboard with the sarcasm is bad, but I feel most of the people in this thread are going overboard in the opposite direction. The customer/manager is not always right.

      1. Lanya*

        The customer/manager may not always be right, but unless they’re asking you to do something illegal, you pretty much have to treat them like they are always right, or risk jeopardizing your job.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        Addressing it such a passive-agressive manner isn’t the solution.
        There are more adult ways to deal with it.

      3. Jamie*

        I don’t think anyone is saying that an occasional comment is a big deal – and certainly no one is claiming that management or customers are perfect.

        But when it’s as universal and pervasive as the OP indicates it’s an issue for almost any workplace.

        If I had people or managers talking about my procedures in a snarky mocking tone all the time – or calling me ‘Ding-dong from on high’ – how could I possibly expect buy in and compliance compliance from the people they manage? I would quickly become a joke and my policies disregarded unless they thought they would get caught.

        I don’t want to spend my career trying to catch people at stuff. I’d really prefer to treat everyone like a trustworthy grown-up.

        An occasional joke is fun and lightens the mood. Yesterday I was conducting an audit and someone threw me a mock military salute as I walked by and asked when the Major Inquisitor would be inspecting their division. I laughed because it was really funny (had to be there). It was funny because it was unexpected and said with the intention of making me laugh – by someone who knew I would.

        But if stuff like that was pervasive and I had to wade through it every time I tried to get something done it would become tiresome…and overkill is the fastest way to make something not funny.

        When it’s pervasive enough that it’s not a one-off, but it’s the general tone of the culture is when the problem comes in.

        1. Jamie*

          “If I had people or managers”

          The hell?? I have no idea how I constructed that sentence.

          FTR most of the managers with whom I’ve worked have also been people.

  46. Anonymous*

    I used to be like the OP years ago. I worked in a super casual IT environment in public education and, like many IT departments, our part of the building was locked down so there were no pop-ins. When I left that job for the corporate world, I was in for quite a shock. I could immediately tell from people’s body language that snarkiness was generally not appreciated, at least during work conversations. I’ve since adjusted and usually just keep those comments to myself now. I figure until I run the company, it’s up to me to adjust to the corporate culture.

  47. Maraca*

    I’m definitely not trying to attack the OP, but just reading the post was annoying to me. The phrase “Merrily Ding-Dongs from On High” oozed bitterness and negativity through my computer screen. I am all for a work environment where people can joke around with each other and have fun. You can do that without sarcasm. Sarcasm is a semi-covert form of hostility. Scale it back, O Baronet of Sarcasm-dom, worker of Sir Ding-Dong. (ugh, I just made myself sick writing that.

      1. Jenn*

        The OP isn’t even being funny! I mean, honestly, does anyone think “Bubblehead”, “Dipstick” or “Ding Dongs Merrily on High” is even remotely cute? I can’t even eek out a chuckle.

        I feel like Seinfeld in that episode with the dentist – I’m offended as a comedian (or, in this case, as a fellow sarcastic person).

        1. fposte*

          I kind of liked “Ding Dongs Merrily on High,” but I think you have to know the carol for it really to work. It’s sort of what a Frank Capra villain might say.

          1. Zed*

            It makes so much more sense now that I know it’s a carol, let me tell you. Still not funny, but a little less bizarre.

  48. SW*

    “which usually goes over very well at my office. “

    Were you being sarcastic?

    (Just kidding.)

    I have to agree with some of the commenters, though — simply reading your email made me empathize with the manager. If I worked with you, I probably would have thought of you as smug and abrasive, and I would have laughed along anyway because I didn’t want to be ridiculed for not being able to take a joke.

  49. Hari*

    OT: but speaking of sarcasm did anyone happen to catch the season premiere of South Park, “Scarcastaball”? I’ve been thinking about it this whole thread. Could you imagine a work environment where every response was a sarcastic comment? lol.

    1. Allypel*

      JUST finished it and I totally brought up this post to my bf. also, I lovelovelove South Park, but this was the worst episode I’ve seen in a loooong time. It just wasn’t funny!! I hope the rest of the season’s better. Just goes to show! Sarcasm: the jokes don’t play well, even on a normally hilarious show.

      1. Hari*

        Personally I think it wasn’t the sarcasm I just think it was the execution. Lately there’s been some episodes in these most recent seasons where there is this long running joke that keeps on building and you are forever waiting for the punchline that just doesn’t come. I felt they could have dealt with it better. But I’ve been having major SP withdrawls over the summer so I too hope the new season is better!

  50. Zee*

    There’s at least one snarky comment in the email already, and it wasn’t to demonstrate an example (the Ding-Dongs Merrily on High comment). It just doesn’t sound professional.

    OP, you say you don’t know what you said wrong, but your two choices are to either continue the status quo or stop. Are you even going to reflect what you say? Do you care what you say? Are you alienating any of your coworkers? Your email sounds like, “Why are they picking on me?” Maybe it’s time to cool your jets on the sarcasm.

  51. Anon21*

    Oh my goodness, LW, you don’t get to lawyer your way out of a reprimand at work! I count one gripe about selective prosecution and one about vagueness in there. Frankly, it makes you sound really callow. Your manager’s job isn’t to be a paragon of even-handedness, it’s to get the most out of her team. Quit making excuses and shape up, or you’ll be in for a much less pleasant chat (at the very least).

  52. Anonymous*

    OP here! Thanks for answering my question. I’m set to make some huge changes at work when I go back (I’ve been out this whole week taking care of my father).

    To clarify: From the title and some comments, it apparently came across that I was feeling stubborn and just didn’t want to stop. This isn’t the case. I felt like it was possible this particular manager was on a power trip. When she has her “high road” moments after letting her own sarcasm flow freely, I feel set up. I don’t want my co-workers to feel that way if I start not participating in the general snark that goes on. It’s a horrible feeling to be left holding the bag when someone pulls away all of a sudden, and I don’t want to cause that feeling. I also don’t want to be thought of as a hypocrite the way we think of this manager.

    The manager in question is one of three, and the other two, who are above her, are really nice to me. I’m also the only one in the office younger than her. So it seemed like there could be several reasons for her to just be giving me a hard time because she could. I stutter very badly when I’m upset, and I know she’s mocked the stutter to at least one co-worker in private because the co-worker told me. When she called me in the first time, I didn’t expect it and I stuttered when I was talking to her. She talked right over me when she saw me struggling to talk; at one point, she even cut off my “W-w-who” (I was asking who I’d offended) with “‘W-w-who’ doesn’t matter.” So, to me, it felt like I was the one she zeroed in on because I was the one who couldn’t talk back and also younger; she’s complained about some older co-workers (constant callouts, etc) but never confronted them. If one of the two steady managers had said something, I’d have known unequivocally it was a huge problem. Since it was this manager, the hot and cold one, it was hard to tell if the message was serious or just another one of her cold days.

    In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter, because it’s obvious I need to take a huge step back on sarcasm at work. As much as I don’t want anyone to feel set up if I don’t join in anymore, it’s clear from the comments here that I could be hurting people’s feelings without knowing it and that seems the worse of the two. I appreciate hearing how everyone here sees the situation. I was too close to it to be sure.

    1. SW*

      I’m sorry to hear that. That’s really shitty of your manager to make fun of your stutter, and worth complaining about to her boss if you ask me.

    2. Allypel*

      Oh my god, that sounds terrible. Making fun of a disability, and one that’s commonly known to be a particularly traumatic one, is unforgivable. She sounds like a bully, you’re right.

      Have you confronted her about her mocking your stutter? Usually when you call people out directly for behavior that should embarrass them, they stop doing it just out of shame. I didn’t learn how to confront people calmly until I was 25 or so, but it’s the most effective tool in the workplace, especially for nipping things in the bud. People don’t expect it from someone lower on the chain, and when you’re interacting as a human being saying they’re not setting the example they’re supposed to, it’s powerful.

      I wish you luck. You seem very sweet. I can see especially how sarcasm would be a natural defense mechanism.

    3. moss*

      That is a HORRIBLE thing for your manager to do! I am appalled!!!

      I think you should look to the other two managers who behave professionally and model your behavior on theirs. If you continue to align yourself in any way with this manager then you are headed for trouble. Focus on making your behavior impeccably beyond reproach and try to get out from under her. She is bad news.

    4. fposte*

      Yes, she sounds like a pretty poor manager, and I like the sound of your self-re-evaluation. I would particularly focus on your “In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter”–this is a legitimate managerial instruction and it wasn’t contradicted elsewhere, so the fact that she’s mean and erratic is kind of irrelevant to the “Do I modify?” question. It may also be that you were making her a little insecure, so if you project more gravitas, you may deflate some of her anxiety–alternatively, gravitas gives you a serious buffer if people are being crazy at you.

      Kudos for you for taking a lot of comments well, too.

      1. The IT Manager*

        +1 Your followup improves my opinion of you. (Not that you have any reason to care about it.) But you come across as much more mature and caring individual here.

    5. Natalie*

      I am having a really hard time expressing this, possibly because I have not had breakfast yet:

      The general vibe of sarcasm and mockery in your office is absolutely related to behavior like making fun of you for a disability, whether to your face or behind your back. And honestly, you and your co-workers lose some of the high ground in challenging her on that if you’ve been making fun of other people behind their back. Aside from not hurting people, dialing the attitude down will influence the tone of the office, or at least a mobile bubble around you.

      My bitter, snarky manager used to make fun of an outside colleague because he had a sibilant S. I had participated when she made fun of unseen corporate people so I never felt comfortable challenging her on her mockery of someone’s speech impediment. (I didn’t really see that dynamic at the time.)

    6. KellyK*

      Making fun of you, especially while telling you to knock off the snark, is really unprofessional and uncalled for.

      If you don’t want your coworkers to feel set up, maybe just tell them, one on one, and quietly, that you’ve been asked to dial it back, so if they say something sarcastic and you don’t respond the way you usually would, please don’t take it personally, because it’s not.

    7. Elizabeth West*

      Your manager is a dink, and I have a strong urge to kick her with my *newly sharpened* skates on.

      It’s still a good idea to cut back on the snark. There’s no need to give her any more reason to bully you, and you can’t really change how other people behave. You can only change how you react to it. It sounds to me now as though the snark may be a defensive reaction, which bullies feed on. Give her no reason to do so and she’ll find another victim.

  53. Not So NewReader*

    All this comparing stuff is an easy pit to fall into. And what are the benefits? None. It gains you nothing to compare your setting to the older workers who are always late. You are torturing yourself.
    All you can do is control you.

    I think most of this is over thinking the situation. Dial down the snarky remarks. Go back in a while and ask the boss if she thinks the situation is better.

    As far as the stuttering… odd things are actually related to each other. You might find that if you dial down the snarky remarks, the stuttering issues also die back.
    Her rudeness in that instance does not mean you are right by default. (“She was wrong, so I must be right” type of thing.) Just change you and see where that puts things. Maybe the tardy workers will start showing up on time. Odd things are related in ways we never anticipated.

    As far as what your other coworkers think- who cares. The snarky remarks were one aspect of your relationship with them- not the sum total. You have other ways to carry on a working relationship with folks. Such as asking how they are doing, talking about news events, talking about the work itself…. You are not without recourse here.
    If anyone says anything about your non-snarky ways simply say “I got tired of all that.” And refuse to talk about it further- redirect the convo to another topic.

    1. Anonymous*

      As far as the stuttering… odd things are actually related to each other. You might find that if you dial down the snarky remarks, the stuttering issues also die back…Just change you and see where that puts things. Maybe the tardy workers will start showing up on time. Odd things are related in ways we never anticipated.

      Okay, somewhere upthread I remember the name change thing and people complimenting you on your comments, but I think that may have gone to your head now that I see this at the bottom.

      The OP stated that s/he stutters when s/he gets very upset. Stuttering almost always starts in childhood; it didn’t start with this job and it’s not a punishment for him/her using sarcasm at work. YOu say if they dial it back the stuttering might stop; this would only be true because then they won’t be called in by their manager anymore and won’t get very upset. But it’s not as if God is going to see them cutting back and take the stuttering away as a reward. That’s just as likely as my Hashimoto’s going away if I stop speeding when I drive.

      Also, no, absolutely not is the OP responsible for the older workers being tardy (they actually said they call out frequently, so I don’t know where tardy comes from.) Saying that if s/he is less sarcastic they will stop calling out is blaming the OP for other people’s behavior no matter what cosmic togetherness spin you want to put on it.

      The OP should definitely stop, I’m not saying they shouldn’t, but after the comments upthread about you having good points, this just looks like you’re reaching and trying to be Yoda here, and you end up basically blaming the OP for someone else’s calling out and for their (I assume) long-running disability. Not cool.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Agreed re: stuttering, but I don’t think the trying-to-be-Yoda accusation is fair either. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about stutters out there. Educating people is good, but I think we can do it without attacking people’s motives.

      2. some1*

        I took it that Not So New Reader was saying if the LW stops snarking, the manager might stop *making fun of* her stutter, not that her stutter would disppear.

      3. Allypel*

        Fwiw, I agreed with your post 100%, anonymous. Seemed presumptuous to infer roots of the stuttering without any real basis.

  54. BW*

    People think your manager is a hypocrite because she behaves like one, and your example of her mocking you but then here you are writing now about how she’s asking you to dial back the snark totally makes her look like a hypocrite. It’s also confusing and sends mixed messages. If snarking is not okay with your manager, why does she engage in it herself? It’s very much “Do as I say, not as a do.”

    People will not think you are a hypocrite if you just stop being snarky or simply don’t offer a retort back to a colleague to be one of the crowd. That is not the same thing as what your manager is doing, mocking people herself and being sarcastic but then telling others not to do it so much.

    If you find someone’s sarcastic remark funny, it is enough to smile and laugh. You don’t need to come back with an equally sarcastic remark or add your own remarks to the mix to fit in with the group. I don’t snark at work, but I don’t feel odd if I’m around co-workers who make a joke. If I find it funny I laugh, but no one thinks it odd that I don’t add fuel to the fire so to speak. People don’t feel snubbed by this.

    It seems overly simplistic, but treat others how you would like to be treated. Modeling positive behavior for others can make a difference in how they start acting, and can effect the general atmosphere in the office.

    Responders here are so right that you can’t control or change what others do or think. You only have the control over yourself. Also, if you refrain from sarcasm and mocking people at work, you are in a better position yourself to confront anyone who would mock you for any reason and will not look like a hypocrite (like your manager) for doing so.

  55. Maus*

    AAM, I know I’m really late to the party here, but I have a question. Now, I have the benefit of seeing the responses and the OP’s follow up post, which you didn’t when you answered. But so many comments were about how the OP needs to find a better fit, yet in both of his posts (the letter and the follow up) it seems it’s just this one manager who has a problem. Isn’t she the one who doesn’t fit?

    I’m just curious, if you’d posted a letter from a person who said they were *a* managr (the OP said there were two others) and didn’t like how everyone else in their office snarked and joked all the time, would your response have been that snark is always inappropriate and that she should sit everyone, including managers who outrank her, down and tell them how unprofessional they’re being? Because I’ve been following you for almost a year now and you seem really concerned with how good a fit the workplace is for people. It seems like this job *is* a good fit for the OP and not for this one manager.

    I mean, personally, I work a coffee shop and we’re all very laid-back and…convivial, I guess is the word. We swear like sailors when customers aren’t at the counter. If someone started here who was very prim and proper and wouldn’t join in, it would make it uncomfortable for the rest of us to feel like we couldn’t have fun. If she said we were being unprofessional, she’d be right. But that’s how we roll here. So I think it would be that person’s job to move on, not us.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I disagree with the comments that this is an issue of fit. It continues to be an issue of (a) when your manager tells you to stop being sarcastic, you have to stop being sarcastic, and (b) regular sarcasm can make a person difficult to work with and an environment unpleasant to work in.

      That said, for the sake of argument, if the letter had been from a manager concerned about all the snark in her department, I’d think it was a legitimate complaint and not a sign that the manager needed to go find a different job. Because again, chronic negativity isn’t good for business, and she’d be in the right to want it scaled way back. (She’d also have legitimate concerns about the attitudes of the people working for her, aside from everything else.)

      1. Maus*

        Okay, that makes sense about snark being an issue bigger than fit. That part I can understand!

        I’m working off the whole picture I got from the letter, answer, comments, and follow up, so I’m a little conflicted. Someone said this had to be a fake letter because no one would ask such an obvious question, DUH! But to me it’s not obvious, because if the OP’s office gets the work done and they have fun snarking each other so work isn’t cold and boring, why would they think anything was wrong? It’s not a moral absolute or anything. He asked for an outside opinion and handled being dogpiled on ten thousand times better than I would have.

        I’ve seen posts here about how OP doesn’t want to mail boss’s letters, come to boss’s dinner, etc, and the general consensus seems to be that sure, boss can fire you if you refuse, but he’s a dick if he does that. Here’s how to nicely point out your side of things… Then this OP gets basically told (overall) “OMG how dare you question this, this is your manager!” This manager led by (poor) example, singled out this guy probably because she was afraid to match verbiage with a non-stutterer, and…it was supposed to be obvious from the beginning that the manager just happened to have a point this time?

        I just feel yucky about this whole thing. :\ It’s not that I feel like you should get to ignore the boss just cause they’re san ass, but someone could get a legitimately ridiculous order from a bonkers boss and then think, well, it’s boss and god forbid I ask anyone if this seems off at all and get jeered at.

  56. Wayne Melton*

    Wow 360 comments in just one weekend. Seems we all agree this employee is just an HR disaster waiting to happen. So he makes derogatory remarks about clients and coworkers and wonders why his manager is having conversations with him.

    Seems like the manager really has not yet resolved the issue. This employee is wondering why. The manager needs to set the ground rules so there is no wiggle room or question as to what is expected.

    At the very least it is unproductive for employees to be sitting around discussing the peculiarities of coworkers and clients. Smiling at the comments and having other managers interacting in a similar fashion with this employee only complicates the teamwork issues.

    Been there done that and unless you stop it cold it will at some point get out of hand. At this point letting everyone know that laughing at clients is cause for termination. They generally pay the bills.

    Wayne Melton

  57. Anonymouse*

    Haven’t read through all the comments so I don’t know if these points will have been covered— but if the OP is in a position to interact a lot with *clients* or the general public, the “misanthrope” type of snark really does need to be dialed back.
    I have a very dry (and at times full-on sarcastic) sense of humor that I enjoy using (sometimes at work), mostly the “situational” kind but at times the “misanthrope” kind too. But I agree with the comments about “knowing your audience”, “small doses” and “there’s a time and a place”. It’s interesting because as snarkers, I think we do have an above-average ability to be perceptive in social situations— which is what allows us to comment so wittily on them when all is working right. But this isn’t infallible.
    And when you have a job that requires dealing with and providing quality service to clients/the public, a huge part of being the right fit for that job is liking other humans enough to want to deal with them. Because people can pick up on it, not least because if you don’t like them you won’t tend to be very motivated to go the extra mile for them.
    I think this struck a bit of a nerve in me because I’m currently in a work situation wherein I’d love to be able to work more with clients/the public because even though I’m a snarker I’m generally an extrovert who enjoys people and giving quality service. The problem is the people who *do* deal with clients/the public at my workplace are all openly misanthropic about having to be bothered, literally acting as if having to respond to an extra email or two to ensure a mutually beneficial transaction is, like, seriously putting them out. They have an attitude that potential clients should do all the work and come to *them*, and their interactions with these clients are stiff, terse and un-engaging. It’s not only personally frustrating to observe that people like that are in jobs that I feel I would enjoy and thrive in, but it’s very evident that it’s an overall attitude that is keeping my organization from being anywhere near as effective, publicly engaged or, frankly, fun as it could be. As snarky as I can be and as much as I love black humor, if I were running my workplace I would see too much misanthropic snarking as incompatible with quality public service and reassign job functions as needed. If you hate people that much, don’t work with them, work with rocks or widgets.

  58. Jake*

    While I agree with AaM (several months later), it would be hilarious to walk around calling people by their full name and title.

    Hello Doctor of Teapot Engineering, Robert Hammerfell, Senior Project Manager of Work Area A, certified Safety Trained Supervisor, Professional Engineer, I would like to introduce you to… etc. etc. etc.

    Hilarious, but probably inappropriate.

  59. WRM*

    I would hate to listen to cynical people -ALL DAY and EVERY DAY- that is what it is called a Cynical Person –I would hate to work in that envirornment and listen to that all day long–it would get me in a bad mood

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