my new office has a no-humor policy

A reader writes:

I’m an analyst at a small (25 employee) firm. I applied here mostly because of the great reputation this place has for putting out good work in my industry, and started this job about three weeks ago. It’s my second job after grad school, so I have a little experience under my belt but am still pretty junior.

When I got my onboarding materials, it was specified that the dress code was formal, which I chalked up to wanting the employees’ presentation to match the sleek and well-decorated office space I had seen in my walk-through. Not a big deal, and after so long working from home I couldn’t complain about getting to shop for some new business outfits and professional heels, honestly.

My first week, everyone was very polite but felt pretty reserved, which I assumed was due to them not knowing me yet. On Monday of my second week, I had a few documents in my hand and was heading to the copy room when one of my coworkers (a peer, not my boss) asked from his office if I could grab his print job from the printer tray while I was in there. I replied that I would, and said I’d be out once I figured out how to make double-sided bound copies on the (new to me) copier, so it might be a few years once I finally had it back to him. To clarify (because this apparently needs clarification?), this was a joke. I was actually going in there to make double-sided bound copies, but was joking about the trickiness of dealing with copiers. In reality, I figured it out in less than five minutes and brought the coworker’s document with me on my way back, not thinking anything about the interaction after that.

At the end of the day, my boss asked me if I could stop by his office before I headed out. I did, and when I got there our HR rep was in there with him(!). HR told me that it concerned him that I had made a joke about using the copier earlier, and that another coworker had come to him to raise this as well after overhearing me say it. I confirmed that it had been a joke, and a very lighthearted (and minor) attempt at establishing some rapport with my new coworkers. Then, my boss said that he didn’t think that kind of remark went over well. Not sure what he was getting at, I apologized for it and said that it was not my intention to reinforce any harmful stereotypes about women in the workplace being incompetent at basic tasks. HR said that that was not the issue, but that it was the fact that I had made a joke at all that he wanted to flag for me. He said that our office was not one where jokes will go over well, and while I wasn’t being reprimanded, he wanted to let me know that in the future I should not use humor or jokes or sarcasm because people could take it the wrong way.

Kind of dumbfounded and assuming that this was a pretty narrowly tailored comment, I agreed that I wouldn’t want external clients or office visitors to hear an innocent joke and get a bad idea of our office or how it’s run based on that. My boss jumped in to clarify that actually, they meant that we are not supposed to make jokes ever, whether or not we have external meetings that day. HR finished by saying that this was not a write-up or anything, and my boss said that my work quality so far has been great. I got my things and went home for the day. I’ve since realized that maybe my initial impression of everyone acting reserved when I started and the formal dress code might all be indicating a more serious workplace than I had expected.

Holy shit, Alison. What? To clarify, I am not interested in doing stand-up comedy at work, nor am I a gregarious person in my personal or professional life. But like — what? I don’t think my big takeaway from this is disappointment that I’m not supposed to make jokes at work (I am not especially funny) but I’m concerned that a throwaway comment I made has been policed to this level. All my friends/family balked when I told them this and told me it’s an insane policy, but the normalcy with which my boss/HR presented this to me is making me feel like I’m the crazy one for questioning it. Is this normal in an office environment? I interned in college and grad school and worked for a few years after graduating, but have never worked someplace where this is the norm.

This policy was not raised in my interviews or anything, and I was really excited about this job because of the professional growth it can afford me. What should I do here? It feels insane to job search after only a few weeks and this feels like a weak reason to leave a job, especially when the job responsibilities/pay/commute are all a step up for me. Do I just resort to being a stone-faced, Serious Business Lady while in the office and accept this insane quirk of the job while reaping the benefits of my position? I don’t think there’s anyone in the office I’d feel comfortable raising this with to get their temperature on it, as even if some of them don’t approve of it or think it’s crazy too, they’re all acting very much in line with the whole “never make a joke or any comment that may in any way be considered not straightforwardly work-related” thing so I can’t tell if there are any other dissenters. And for clarification, I do not work in law, banking, accounting, or any other industry where there is a stereotype of overly serious work environments. Any help would be VERY useful here.

A final note: I’m a regular AAM reader so my first thought was to think “Does this one weird quality actually indicate a much more flawed workplace?” and I genuinely think the answer is no. My boss and coworkers have provided great feedback on my work, I have opportunities to collaborate, there’s room for growth, and my experience has been varied. It’s just like … no one talks about anything but work, it’s a very quiet office, and I have quite literally never heard a laugh in here (all appropriate consequences of a no-humor office, I suppose). I just wanted to flag in case you were wondering if this office was a really dysfunctional place in other ways that I’m not taking into account.

Noooo, this is not normal!

It is very, very odd, and it’s a bizarre amount of control over people’s interactions with each other.

It’s true that are times when a manager might have good cause for talking to an employee about inappropriate use of humor — but those would be things like “Hey, the frequent sarcasm is coming across as pretty aggressive” or “rein in the dark humor, would you?” or “people don’t know you’re joking when you say things like X or Y” or “do not make jokes about race or gender here, ever.”

But “do not make a humorous remark ever, at any time”? Why?

Did they have a problem with some jokes landing wrong and this is a massive overcorrection? Does someone in upper management have no sense of humor and this is an order from them? Is it not really the policy and HR and your boss somehow really mangled whatever they intended to communicate to you?

If I had to put money on it, I’d guess that this is someone’s really strange idea of what “professionalism” looks like. But if so, how has no other senior person spoken up and said, “Um, this is a really weird edict and we shouldn’t do this”? I mean, in theory we could make people more professional by banning any non-work-related talk too, but we don’t do that because we work with humans and conversation is a normal part of human behavior, as is humor.

I’m glad you included your note at the end, because I’m definitely wondering what this culture is like! Do people seem happy? Is there a sense of warmth in their interactions with each other? It doesn’t sound like a particularly joyless place from what you wrote in your last paragraph but … at the same time, how can it not be?

I’m also wondering what it does to people to work in an office with this rule over a sustained period of time. I’d worry it would change your personality, making you less light-hearted outside of work too. (Or the reverse — sending you home every day bursting with pent-up silliness that must be unleashed. I might leave for lunch every day and rapid-fire an unseemly number of terrible jokes in quick succession at the person preparing my sandwich, just for the relief of it.)

As for what to do … I think it’s too soon to decide anything for sure yet. You’re only a few weeks in, you haven’t noticed anything troubling outside of this, and you’re otherwise happy with the job. For now, you might as well stay put and get a better sense of the culture. If it becomes clear that the culture is chilly and not one where you’re comfortable, then at that point you’d decide whether it’s uncomfortable to the point that you want to job-search immediately, or something you’ll live with for a while but probably not long-term (maybe staying a year or two but then parlaying the experience into something else), or something you’re willing to deal with in exchange for other benefits of the job. Or who knows, maybe it’ll become clear that despite the no-humor policy, people are still warm and reasonably human and the restrictions roll right off you when you leave the office every day.

You’ll also probably know some coworkers well enough at some point that you can ask what’s up with this, because even people who don’t have a major problem with it probably still recognize that it’s unusual. (But who knows, maybe they’re all refugees from companies where office humor meant sexualized or bigoted jokes and they’re delighted by this reprieve. I’m guessing, though, that you’re not the only one who finds it strange.)

But yes, your gut reaction is right. This is indeed Quite Odd.

{ 1,036 comments… read them below }

            1. Little Red Riding Hood*

              This office was a client of mine in the 70’s!
              I sold sandwiches out of a basket to downtown government offices. Most of them loved me and ran to get their buddies when I arrived; those who were undecided I teased with tempting peeks. But in just one office I could never raise more than the tiniest lift of one side of a smile. A couple of people occasionally purchased, and I wasn’t discouraged from entering, but absolutely stone-faced interactions.

      1. Lilo*

        I used to have a a job where I made massive numbers of copies and I would make all kinds of jokes about the copier when I was unjamming it.

        Not kidding, I would consider finding another job. You made a completely innocuous comment about the copier and they made you meet with HR? Run.

        1. Molly Coddler*

          about the COPIER! everyone makes jokes about the copiers. it’s as basic as it gets. and someone went to report this? and HR got involved? i personally would run.

          1. Yorick*

            It’s one thing that nobody in the office makes jokes. It’s another that this is on purpose because someone has decided it needs to be a policy. But it’s a waaaay different thing for a colleague to report you to your boss and HR because you made a joke about not knowing how to use the copy machine. I’d seriously consider leaving right away.

            1. Pickled Limes*

              I’m not going to say OP should leave right now over this, but she should definitely be on the lookout for other ways leadership at this office might overreact to things that aren’t necessarily a big deal. Be watchful, OP, and use what you learn from watching to decide whether this is the workplace for you.

              1. OhNo*

                Leadership and coworkers, jeez. The fact that one of the coworkers felt it necessary to report a completely harmless comment to the boss would be deeply weird at any place I’ve ever worked. I don’t think I even notice half of what my coworkers are saying to each other!

                LW, I would highly suggest keeping an eye out for a culture that encourages reporting (or “flagging”, or “mentioning”… whatever they call it) even the tiniest infraction or detail. It sounds rather like those cults that keep members in line by making them assume everyone is spying on them all the time, and I can’t help but imagine that such an environment would make it terribly hard to be collegial with your coworkers.

                1. Mimi*

                  Yeah, if I somehow worked in an office with no humor allowed (dubious), I feel like this would be the sort of thing where you pull the new person aside and go, “Just so you know, we don’t make jokes here. I’m sure you didn’t mean anything by it, but that’s our policy.”

                2. Elliott*

                  Yes! That’s what got me–that a coworker thought it was worth reporting an innocuous joke. That raises a lot of questions about the culture for me.

                3. Elizabeth West*

                  Yes, this is more alarming to me than the no-humor thing. I seriously doubt it would remain confined to tone policing.

                4. esmerelda*

                  That’s a good point! I wonder too why OP was never told of this rule (as absurd of a rule as it is) ahead of time. They really think not joking ever is so incredibly normal that it doesn’t deserve an FYI in advance? That’s as eye opening as the policy itself is.

                5. Overit*

                  “They really think not joking ever is so incredibly normal that it doesn’t deserve an FYI in advance? That’s as eye opening as the policy itself is.”

                  I am in a situation like that now — I was not told before starting work or during onboarding that our boss bans any unnecessary sounds. She actually goes ballistic if she hears someone’s phone make ONE beep. We had an (unpaid) intern start and as she was walking in on the first day, her phone rang and boss screamed at her. If you are working with a piece of equipment that makes a noise of any kind, she goes ballistic. If she hears the sound of the paper cutter, she goes ballistic. She thinks she is normal and that these work place rules are normal. She even yelled at me once because she heard my phone vibrate, so now all phones have to be on silent.

                  This ban has had serious consequences for me because — while working, I cannot just stare at my phone waiting to see it ring — I missed a series of phone calls from my doctor’s office. It had real implications for my health care because I was unable to grab a highly coveted appointment when it became available and had to wait a YEAR for another one.

                  So yes, these bans need to be made clear during the initial interview.

            2. Shirley Keeldar*

              Seriously! (no joke intended there) I’d be no nervous watching every word out of my mouth that I could hardly do my job.

              That said, it does seem that OP would get some real professional benefit out staying for a year or two…but always remember, OP–they are very, very weird, and it’s not you!

              1. MCMonkeybean*

                Yes, I think this would be a real deal-breaker for me. I know I am very lucky to be in a position where I could walk away from a job over this, but you spend so much time at work and it is totally reasonable not to want to feel uncomfortable and/or like your every word is being so heavily judged. And I think Alison’s point is spot on that I would have to be so conscious of what I said I would worry that would bleed over into my personal life!

                A step up in pay and commute is worth a lot, and if this place has a reputation for good work then it would be good to be able to include it on your resume. So I certainly get why people would stay and that might be the right move for OP. But I hope they feel validated that it would not be a “weak” reason to leave if that’s what they end up deciding. That would be a totally valid and understandable choice, at least in my opinion.

            3. Artemesia*

              Not just somebody but apparently people ‘overhearing’ this heinous violation of public decency. To be called on the carpet by HR and the boss for this does not bode well. I would ramp up the job search and leave a really searing glassdoor when you leave. There are bees swarming just below the surface here.

            4. Wenike*

              Just a quick note, it wasn’t ONE coworker reporting the joke. It was the recipient of the joke and someone else who overheard it who both went to the boss/HR about it.

              1. esmerelda*

                Yeah, the second person overhearing and reporting it makes it sound so much more bizarre/alarming…

          2. bubbleon*

            In your SECOND WEEK! It isn’t as if you’d made a ton of gaffes already and it had to be escalated to HR, you’re still in the very introductory phase of training and obviously hadn’t been told about the no joy rule. Why couldn’t your supervisor just tell you?

            1. code red*

              Forget the supervisor. Why couldn’t the person who reported them to hr just tell them?

            2. Blushingflower*

              On the flip side, early in your employment is totally the time that they should be letting you know about things you’re doing that aren’t in keeping with company policy/culture! Better to tell you about this weird “no humor” rule early in your employment then let you keep making jokes and then call you out for them at your 6 month review! (Really, better to let you know in the orientation process and employee handbook, or better yet, as part of the interview/hiring process, but). “Hey, we know you’re new, so here’s a heads-up on how we do things” isn’t unreasonable. And it’s possible that the third person was thinking “hey, no one told the new hire how we do things here, lemme give the boss a heads-up” rather than thinking of it as “snitching”. Not in anyway saying that this is a normal workplace or somewhere I’d want to work but doesn’t mean there was ill intent.

              1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

                Nah. Having HR present for that talk means people there already know it’s a repressive cult.

                1. TheAG*

                  Yup. And not having it in the manual or presented at orientation means they also know it’s bizarre.
                  I hear and believe ya LW that there isn’t anything else odd going on there but…honeymoon phase and all. This just seems too out there for nothing else sketchy going on.

              2. bubbleon*

                Yes, but it wasn’t presented as “just a heads-up”, the person who heard the joke reported it to HR, they didn’t give LW or their manager the heads-up about it.

                Also, if this is such a big thing, it should be included as a part of introductions and trainings pretty quickly. Not quite “Welcome to BoringJob where we don’t joke!”, but if it’s not included in a company handbook it should be mentioned in whatever initial processing stuff new hires do with HR. How else would you *ever* recognize it on your own?

                1. esmerelda*

                  Yes! My thoughts exactly. If it really must be a thing, then act like it’s A Thing and inform new employees. But leadership/staff must be so entrenched in the policy that they think it’s normal and not notable at all.

                2. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

                  This. I actually think I could cope with a “no jokes” rule, but I would hate being in a place where they don’t tell you there’s an unusual, unexpected, un-guessable rule till after you broke it.

          3. pbnj*

            Seriously, it’s the blandest thing to joke about, it’s to the level about commenting about the weather.

            1. Autumnheart*

              It’s on the level of saying something like, “Wish it weren’t raining, but hey! Wait 5 minutes and it’ll change! Nyuk nyuk” and getting written up for it.

              1. quill*

                I wonder how much this policy ends up being a cover for retaliating against people who complain, or are otherwise “negative”?

                “This is going to take forever,” – An exaggeration is humor and not tolerated
                “We’re thrilled to start shoveling llama poop.” – Sarcasm will get you written up

            2. Pickled Limes*

              Exactly this. I get that a lot of jokes can be made at other people’s expense and you want to avoid that in the workplace, but “copy machines can be tricky to figure out!” is a pretty bland topic of humor.

              1. JustaTech*

                Like, I’ve been making jokes about the copier since I was NINE. (I spent a lot of time at my parents’ office as a kid, so there was a good amount of “Hey, JustaTech, you’ve got little fingers, come un-jam the copier.”)

          4. Rav*

            Perhaps it was the copier raising a stink. Maybe it went to Office Resources to print out their complaint.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              I mean, if the machines have risen/become sentient and are now filing HR complaints, our fax machine is definitely coming after me for using inappropriate language and physical aggression.

              1. NotJane*

                “You wanna know what PC Load Letter means??? I’ll show you what PC Load Letter means!!!”

                – NotAnotherManager’s fax machine

              2. Le Sigh*

                Little known fact: this was actually the original plot of the Terminator until they did extensive rewrites.

                1. an infinite number of monkeys*

                  Yes! It was originally imagined as a sequel to Office Space.

                  (I’m not sure if the timing works on that, but can’t be bothered to look it up.)

                2. Le Sigh*

                  @an infinite number of monkeys

                  Technically by release date it doesn’t work, but I bet we could retcon it Fast & Furious style and just assert that chronologically, Office Space came before Terminator.

                3. nonegiven*

                  Terminator, as a time travel franchise, the time line can be overwritten over and over. It changes constantly, that’s why it’s still going.

            2. ampersand*

              You know what, this is literally the only explanation that makes sense.

              LW needs to run away, quickly!

            3. RogueTech*

              I want to thank you and everyone who has responded for this LOL. The phone I’m typing this on is likely to report this entire interaction, see you in timeout.

          5. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            And it’s not even the person she was trying to joke with; it was a random bystander who is trying to police her speech!!!

            1. anonymouse*

              That was my thought. If I were a manager and someone came to me because my direct report made an off the cuff remark to someone else, I’d wonder why they were spending so much time on a conversation that has nothing to do with them.

            2. fhqwhgads*

              Are they all androids? “Joke detected. Report compiled….submitted. Joke infraction protocol complete.”

          6. A Poster Has No Name*

            The thing that kills me is not just that jokes aren’t allowed, but that not only did your boss comment on it, but A COWORKER WHO OVERHEARD IT REPORTED IT. I mean? I’d feel hunted if I couldn’t make slightly snarky comments about technology foibles while figuring stuff out or waiting for things to work, frex.

            And what constitutes “humor”? If I apologize for robot voice when my internet flakes a bit on a Teams call, is that a joke? Or only if I say “sorry I turned into a robot there for a minute?”

            I’d never say anything to anyone, in this office.

            1. KaloraKid*

              This is where my brain is bluescreening as well. This rule not only exists but someone went to HR to report the egregious copier joke?

              This is so outside the norms of society, that kind of rule should be disclosed in the job description or interview process. I wouldn’t have lasted the first morning of orientation/onboarding.

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                This is so outside the norms of society, that kind of rule should be disclosed in the job description or interview process.

                It should be posted at the entrance, right underneath “Lasciate Ogni Speranza, Voi Ch’entrate.” (Abandon All Hope, Oh Ye Who Enter)

              2. Aitch Arr*

                On the flip side, my boss (CHRO of the company) lists “sense of humor” as a requirement on every job posting for our HR department.

            2. Eat My Squirrel*

              100% with you. I would be so afraid to speak at all for fear of something at a level 1 on the humor scale slipping past my (normal human) filter.

              I had something similar, though not this bad, happen when I kept getting in trouble for my “offensive” language. The last straw was when my supervisor gave me a 15 minute lecture that no kidding started “we don’t use words like hate,” because I had said “I hate it when…” in a meeting. I am not capable of policing my own speech to such a level, so I got out as fast as I could before she could put me on a PIP about it. In the meantime I got in trouble for… not speaking in meetings.

              I’m sorry, OP, I hope that you are able to adjust and adopt the Serious Business Lady persona for the time being, but if it’s too hard, get out. Your sanity is more important than any job.

              1. NotJane*

                “ I am not capable of policing my own speech to such a level…”

                Seriously! I got stressed out just reading the post for this very reason. I cannot imagine having to censor myself to this degree for 40+ hours a week. Where did the higher-ups at this company graduate from? The Joseph Stalin School of Business Management?

                1. OhNo*

                  I don’t think I’d be able to censor myself for so much as an hour, let alone the entire time I’m at work. Good grief!

                  By all means, LW, stick it out for a while to see how it goes. But do keep an eye on any self-censoring habits you develop here, in case it gets bad. I could see this bleeding into your regular life in a negative way if you’re not careful!

                2. Your Local Password Resetter*

                  Not until they silently fire OP during their lunch break and then deny they ever worked there.

              2. Uranus Wars*

                I am not capable of policing my own speech to such a level… is why I think Alison’s bit about this making an impact outside of work is so important and why I think OP needs to look sooner rather than later. If you have to train yourself to police your language 40 hours a week to this extent it will be near impossible to turn it off and on. IMO anyways.

                1. Self Employed*

                  Welcome to what Autistics are taught in ABA. If a “normal” person is forced to police themselves that strictly, it’s considered abuse. If a disabled person is, that’s “therapy.”

              3. Pennyworth*

                I wonder if the office culture is totally humorless because they have driven away anyone with a normal sense of harmless fun.

              4. Djuna*

                +1000 to this. I would have been brought in for this conversation on day one, probably would have laughed in that talking-to meeting at the sheer absurdity of it all (the rule, the reporting, the serious conversation about not ever joking), and therefore would have been walked out of the building minus one job immediately afterwards.

                Humans use humor in all kinds of ways: to bond, to defuse difficult situations, to relieve stress, to laugh where you might otherwise cry, etc. etc. As long as that humor isn’t punching down or at someone else’s expense, or racist/sexist/homophobic etc. (I don’t think, even with the Internet of Things, copiers have conciousness enough to object to Xeroxphobic humor) then it’s harmless and can be a positive thing. Why would you ban amusement? The mind boggles.

                1. Jen*

                  Not only am I frequent joker, (I swear, people like me! I’m a delight!), but I also laugh when I’m uncomfortable. I would have awkwardly giggled myself right into a termination in that meeting for sure.

              5. frystavirki*

                Jeeeeez. I would expect a lecture starting with “We don’t use words like ‘hate'” to take place in a kindergarten. My brain just conjured up an image of two businesspeople in suits sitting in those tiny little chairs in a room filled with posters of the alphabet, having this Very Serious Discussion.

                1. TootsNYC*

                  my kids were really fierce about “we don’t use hate.”
                  or “stupid”–that was a shockingly bad word.

                  I kind of saw their point, actually. It doesn’t hurt to train those out of one’s speech; the world is kinder when you do. But….

              6. Aggretsuko*

                I just love when literally everything you say is bad, but at the same time, not saying anything at all is also bad! I’ve asked my supervisors which is worse and they literally could not answer me because me just being me in itself was bad.

              7. Liz*

                When I was five, my friend’s mother gave me a very stern talking to when she heard me saying I hated the yellow crayon. It’s nice to see she returned to the workforce after her kids got older.

              8. Random Biter*

                I’m never quitting my job. Not only are 4 letter words the norm (but *not* when they’re directed at a person) they are encouraged in the interest of not having your head explode.

              9. TheAG*

                I agree…I honestly think my team would implode given this type of regulation. This is so anti…work…for me.
                We work in a high-stress environment that is 24/7 constantly moving. Without the stream of “mthrfckrs” or “bastiges” uttered LOUDLY in cubicles, and the wall of internally generated memes, I think we’d all have heart attacks.
                I wonder what they’d think about the picture of burning porta-potties I posted to a ridiculously failing Teams chat thread with overseas IS. FIREABLE OFFENSE, I’m sure.

              10. Overit*

                The only way I could police my speech to such a level would be to, well, stop speaking unless absolutely necessary.

                I truly do not want to spend 40 hours a week like that. As Allison said, this ban would have a negative effect on my emotional/mental wellbeing. In all sincerity, I would get depressed and anxious (and I am not a person prone to such reactions).

            3. Courtney*

              Having worked in an office where policing every interaction was the norm: get out now before you need therapy to recover from working there. This is a Camping-World-sized red flag, emblazoned with a golden “YIKES”, flying high, flapping proudly in the wind generated by its own toxicity.

            4. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

              That made me blink and read the sentence again! It wasn’t already bad enough — but a coworker then *reported* an extremely innocuous joke?! I’m really glad the LW sent in the final part about the office culture overall, and I’d be curious to hear an update in a few weeks/months to see if anything else of note has emerged.

              Godspeed, LW. I would have been fired by 10am!

                1. PeanutButter*

                  Yeah pretty much all of my “So tell me about a time you overcame a challenge” type stories have some humor in them.

            5. Sparrow*

              My team’s culture is very work-centric without much chit chat (notably, this is not office policy, it’s just what most people do). I mean, I don’t know my boss’ kids’ names, and I’ve worked for her for almost two years. And yet! We still make these throwaway jokes about work stuff, the weather, etc.

              If even that isn’t allowed, I don’t see how you could possibly make it work unless you just literally never opened your mouth except to say good morning and to talk about projects. This kind of team environment is pretty isolating as it is, and while I have a higher tolerance for that than most people, I don’t know how long I could work there if NO levity was allowed. If I were OP, I would give it a try but if it’s unbearable, I’d resume the job search (and strongly recommend to my boss that they start disclosing this detail about office culture during the interview process…)

              1. Random Biter*

                Good morning?! What do you mean good morning, it’s raining! Are you being sarcastic? Because if you are……

          7. mojujozo*

            Yea, so we know at least three people take this “no humor” policy VERY seriously (the person who reported you, HR, & your boss). Why was this not mentioned during the interview or on-boarding process? It is such a weird policy (decades of experience here at lots of different companies) that I’ve NEVER heard of such a thing.

            But as others have mentioned, you made a silly little remark exaggerating about how difficult it can be to learn to operate a new copier & it escalated? I would be terrified of making an off-hand remark & getting reprimanded. I just don’t think I’d be able to police myself to never say something humorous & I’m hardly the “class clown” of the office.

            At the VERY least, I think I’d follow up with my immediate supervisor/manager to find out more about this policy. How long has it been in place? What prompted it? How was the transition for existing employees when it was implemented? Can they consider mentioning it to new hires so they can self-select out if the policy is too onerous? What would the consequence be if once you get really comfortable you slip up & make an off-hand humorous comment? Would you be given an opportunity to immediately catch yourself & apologize or would it be escalated?

            1. MassMatt*

              I was wondering this also, why not make this clear up front? Maybe think “formal” covers it all, from attire to humorless conduct?

              And someone overhearing this innocuous joke (made by a new colleague!), instead of simply saying “hey, the policy is we never joke in the office” they report you to your boss, who then has a meeting with HR present? Serious things like sexual harassment or racist nonsense are often treated more lightly.

              That said, it is what it is, the owner/management clearly want a quiet, formal atmosphere where people only talk about work. If you can deal with this, it might actually be a good workplace, though the overreaction to the innocuous joke doesn’t bode well. You need to weigh how much this bothers you, and how much this might warp your sense of what’s normal.

              1. ArtsNerd*

                >Maybe think “formal” covers it all, from attire to humorless conduct

                They’d be well off-base if so. My dad was in-house counsel (lawyer) at a notoriously conservative corporation for over 30 years, and the man can’t last 5 minutes in conversation without cracking a joke. Sometimes he’s even funny!

              2. MissCoco*

                In defense of the overhear-er: I am not sure I would believe this policy if it didn’t come from a manager! If one of my co-workers said it, I think I’d probably think it was some kind of weird joke from them!

                1. What on earth?!*

                  Agree that I’d interpret it as them making a joke, and then I’d respond by cracking *another* joke… I’d assume they were trying to make a social connection and welcome me to the team. But I still can’t past the fact that this got reported and that HR got called in for the meeting with the manager. So incredibly bizarre. I *really* want to hear an update in a few months! ;-D

                2. MCMonkeybean*

                  I was thinking the same.

                  I’d be curious to know how they “reported” it–if it was a serious complaint like “I need to report OP for this violation of our no-humor policy” or if it was more of just a heads up like “hey, I heard OP making a joke so I wanted to check whether anyone had let them know about our no-humor policy?”

                  I admit also I was wondering whether it was truly a third-party who happened to overhear or whether that is just what they say so it’s not obvious that the person you were talking to is the one who reported you? But I don’t know if a place that staunchly opposes even dry copier humor would approve of even little white lies.

            2. Your Local Password Resetter*

              I suspect they don’t mention it because they’ve normalized this so much. If the manager and HR think this is completely normal, they probably don’t think it’s worth drawing attention to either.

          8. Zennish*

            Likewise. If this is their up-front crazy, I would not want to stick around and see how deep it actually gets.

        2. Van Wilder*

          I agree. I would be looking for a new job. Not just because this humorless office sounds soul-crushing and norm-warping, but because of the overreaction with calling in HR.

          I once had a boss who would have a Very Serious Talk about everything. For example, one day when I first started, I was wearing a sleeveless suit-dress from Banana Republic (my blazer was on the back of my chair.) My bra strap fell off my shoulder. Instead of her saying “whoops- your bra strap!” It was “We have a dress code here. Tank tops [was not a tank top!] are not part of the dress code but it’s ok if you take your blazer off while you’re around our offices…. [five minute speech before getting to the point – fix your bra strap.]” Turned out to be the tip of the dysfunction iceberg.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I agree here. This calling in of HR and having A Conversation About Jokes and stressing that this was Not a Write-Up is indicative of a systemic reliance on overreaction.

        3. Liz*

          I know right? i’ve been known to joke about kicking the copier when its acting up, so I’d be out quickly if i worked where the OP did. What the everloving @#$%^ kind of place is that?

        4. WantonSeedStitch*

          Would it count as a joke if I sang Bob Marley’s “Jamming” while dealing with a paper jam? I mean, it’s not sarcasm or anything. Of course, they probably have a no-singing policy too.

              1. JustaTech*

                Dominus Requiem … whomp!
                (A la Monty Python and the Holy Grail)
                Oh no, I did a humor! A full humor!

                1. Sivvy*

                  That made me full on belly laugh!
                  And then caused a whole chain of events: I spit coffee all over my monitor, see belly laugh above, and the feline that was asleep in my lap is now rather damp, smelling of coffee, and very annoyed at having to clean her face. The feline is reporting me to HR and it turns out that IT is not pleased either…..

              2. ShortT*

                I’d be reported for daring to chant “F*** you, I won’t do what you tell me!” In Byzantine tone 6.

        5. Wendy Darling*

          How does anyone survive copiers without either constantly making jokes about copiers or, like, straight up beating the copier with a stick (which I assume is also not allowed in an office that does not allow HUMOR)?

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I used to threaten to get the forklift and put ours in the dumpster at OldExjob. It would magically start working again. I can only imagine what HR at OP’s job would make of that.

        6. DollarStoreParty*

          I think “my current employer doesn’t allow humor of any kind” is a perfectly reasonable explanation for why you’re leaving so soon.
          And, OP, I hope that as you leave you skip and tell jokes the whole way out. then come back and tell us about it.
          I wouldn’t last 5 minutes in this place.

      2. LifeBeforeCorona*

        I would be fired within the first hour. I’ve worked in kitchens and if we were told absolutely no humour, there would be a mass walkout.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I would be fired within the first hour.

          I suspect we’d both be in good company as we’re frogmarched out of Humorless, LLC on our first day.

          1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

            Silver lining: you could turn the frogmarch into a great Monty Python silly walk.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I’m not a Monty Python fan. (Sorry, Keymaster of Gozer).

              It’d be the Colonel Bogey March, complete with Spaceballs’ lyrics!

                1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

                  I’d want the singing alien whosits to wave around as I skipped toward the exit.

          2. Frog*

            Am I the only one who would leap like a front as I was being marched out of the office. Rrrbit

        2. At home with work*

          I’d say I would not last an hour too, however, I’d have likely made a joke during the interview and been escorted out by security.

        3. anonymouse*

          I work in a place with suits and ties, skirt suits (no pants and panty hose). It is intense. Our printer was such a box of assorted disasters, when we finally got official word that a replacement was on the way, I (only half joking) asked my boss if I could kick it out the door.
          Not only did she laugh. She let me put on my sneakers and give it a good hard kick once it was on the floor and the other was placed.
          So no, OP, I assure you, fellow long time reader that your office is a leap year birthday on WTF Wednesday at Hellmouth with Guacamole Bob in charge of snacks.

        4. tink*

          I might last a week, mainly because it takes me a few days to get talking. But my entire office would absolutely be fired if we had a no humor rule–we regularly make jokes about programs that run slow “taking an early weekend” or “oh guess it’s 6 o’clock somewhere.”

        5. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

          I would be getting fired right along with you – if I even lasted an hour.

        6. ZebraNeighbor*

          My team narrowly avoided throwing office supplies when my boss asked me to “lay off the f-bombs” in our tiny customer-less dungeon of an office. Humor, constant cursing, and the occasional otter photo were all that got me through the day. Take away one leg of the tripod and it will all fall down.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        I used to have a coworker who insisted on printing labels on the general department printer instead of her own printer, and the department printer would inevitably jam and I’d spend the rest of the afternoon taking it apart and un-gumming it.

        I kind of hated her.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Department of 2, most of the time (four, but the other two were in a different location). It’s a long story, but she wasn’t going to change.

      4. Amber Rose*

        We literally just invested an obscene amount of money into a copy and print station, this thing is a monstrosity that’ll shovel out copies and prints already folded and stapled… and we still crack jokes about how it’s an impossible disaster.

        I don’t think I’m capable of walking by it without doing so honestly.

      5. knitcrazybooknut*

        8:01 a.m. on the first day, knitcrazybooknut files for unemployment with termination letter in hand, ink still drying.

      6. Gumby*

        Yup. I wouldn’t necessarily say that sarcasm is my native tongue, but I am definitely fluent in it.

        Restraining myself from saying the sarcastic things I think wouldn’t necessarily be a problem – I already do that frequently when letting those thoughts out would be inappropriate or unkind. But I’d develop some sort of paranoia around all of my co-workers and be afraid to speak about anything.

      7. The Cats' Servant*

        Same. Also, at least 2 employees squealed on her to HR. That’s more bothersome to me than the policy.

    1. Gem*

      I assumed every office had ‘making the printer/copier work is some wizardry’ jokes, because, well, that’s how the printers/copiers work

      1. AnonEMoose*

        Right? At a ::mumble mumble:: years ago job, I was somewhat known for walking up to the notoriously cranky and prone to jamming laser printer and saying, conversationally “You know…16 stories is a long way down…”. And the printer would give me what I wanted. (Honestly, I think that’s the part that freaked people out a little.)

        I wouldn’t last 5 minutes in a “no humor allowed” office.

        1. calonkat*

          Threatening technology is definitely a thing. I’ve described turning the computer off and waiting 15 seconds as “putting it in time out so it can think about what it did”. And I once threatened my car with a sledgehammer (and it started right up!)

          1. WorkNowPaintLater*

            When doing the unplugging of a wayward technology device, I almost always comment about “making it think about its life choices”.

            1. Grayling38*

              Now that really made me laugh which I suppose means we’d both get a talking to from HR, because laughing must be banned too!

          2. Wendy Darling*

            My college roommate had a printer for a while that only worked when I was looking at it so sometimes I just had to go glare at her printer for a couple minutes while she printed something. Technology is apparently susceptible to intimidation.

          3. JustaTech*

            I work in a lab and the things we’ve said to the very expensive and extra difficult scientific instruments are generally unprintable. My personal favorite was “you misbegotten love child of a toaster and a Speak and Spell!”
            There was one instrument that was so difficult the joking suggestion that we sacrifice a goat got pretty serious (until we found out how expensive goats are).

            1. CowWhisperer*

              I took an instrumental chemistry lab that was stocked with really old, rather cranky instruments.

              The fluorescence instrument improved once we gave it a soul which we realized was the solution once the college ACS chapter watched the newer “Flubber” movie together. It also appreciated being called “dearie” and a gentle pep talk.

              We were a small class and one time we convinced one lazy, flighty student that the reason the atomic absorption instrument needed repair was that he had brought his graphing calculator into the lab with the instruments. (We wet-benched in a different lab and there was a second tiny lab with an NMR.) Actually, two other students started the gag and the rest of us piled on. He was a smidge gullible – and the fact that he never spent any more time in lab than the bare minimum meant he somehow missed like three weeks of increasing erratic behavior by the AA being workshopped by the professor and ending in a warped burner. Like….my four year old would have been more aware than this guy – but it still was a great prank.

            2. Storm in a teacup*

              We got a goat to zoom into our weekly team meeting a few months ago – definitely ended up derailing the last 5 minutes of the meeting
              Maybe a goat blessing on zoom might work?

              Also OP the fact that a coworker reported you and HR got involved is a huge red flag. What would happen if you innocuously discussed the weather? It’s non work related so do you get reported? Are you allowed to smile at each other in greeting etc? Is there any small talk at all? This is so weird. I agree with commentator above this is leap year birthday level

              1. 'Tis Me*

                Yes! Person comes in literally dripping wet. Person already in the office looks up.
                “Still raining then?”
                “Hadn’t noticed.”

                Or:
                “Bit damp outside?”
                “Ducks are happy at least.”

                Or:
                “Forget your umbrella?”
                “Nah, got dressed then showered instead of showered then dressed. Mornings are hard!”

                I would literally get fired from there for walking in when it was raining!! Like, how else would that discussion go?

                “Our office has a formal, professional dress code.”
                “Yes. I am a formal, professional drowned rat.”

                Errr, no, wait…

          4. Anonny*

            I once gave an old, poorly-behaved laptop of mine to a friend who wanted a virus testing machine. (She worked in computer security.) Ever since then, pretty much all of my electronics have been threatened with being sent to her, and it’s worked on most of them.

            (The exceptions being my gaming PC, because he knows he’s my spoiled baby, and the scanner-printer, because the only emotion that damned thing knows is hubris. Much like a seagull.)

        2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

          We had 1 printer in Cubicle Land that we regularly threatened to euthanize. I’d have probably burst out laughing at the idea of HR & Boss being serious about the no joke policy and got fired. Or just quit on the spot as “not a good cultural fit”

      2. CreepyPaper*

        We literally have a magic wand on a string by our copier.

        That’s how my office rolls. And weirdly enough if you smack the copier with the wand, it behaves…

        I wouldn’t last five minutes at an office like that. We have no dress code and the amount of puns on a daily basis are simply staggering. But we work in logistics, it’s a hellmouth right now because of the global shipping situation and if we didn’t have humour, I think we’d all be sobbing at our desks.

        1. Owler*

          I self-banned myself from adding paper to the copier because it always seemed to jam whenever I filled it. It wasn’t my imagination…my boss came over to see if I did something to cause the jams, but neither she nor anyone else in the vicinity could see what I was doing wrong. For much of the summer, I just avoided the copier.

          Later that summer, I wore different shoes. No paper jam. We figured out that my thick rubber soled shoes generated enough static that I charged the paper so it would stick together just enough to jam the machine. I started touching the wall before adding paper, and no more jams. So weird.

          Anyway, I mention this story to say that maybe there’s something to using the magic wand!

        1. vho842*

          Thank you! This was my first thought. It’s like the boss here watched that movie and felt sorry for the printer, not the people getting fired.

      3. Perilous*

        I’ve spent years of my life working on developing and testing printers. You just can’t survive without humor.

        My favorite joke is a line repurposed from Alice Through the Looking Glass, changed from a complaint to a plea : “Jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today”.

        I would have quit on the spot. A privilege to be able to do that, I know.

      4. TotesMaGoats*

        I got one of my best unsolicited reviews because I was a copier wizard and could make our old, clunky thing work. I think the guy did call me a wizard among all the rest. It was told in a adventure story format which made for interesting reading.

    2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Right? Like… I’ve been known to wax poetic for hours about how copiers are the bane of human existence. They are the reason percussive maintenance is a thing. Every other machine humanity has created can be sweet-talked, cajoled, or babied into doing it’s job right, but copiers are the recalctriant delinquents of all our inventions, and they shall forever plague us, while assimilating their more benign kindred, as has already happened with the scanners, the faxes, and the printers. Woe unto humanity, for not seeing the warning signs that heralded their malice!

      Yes, I work with them regularly, why do you ask?

      The only way I can see any of this making sense is if the office works in Very Serious Fields, and are worried about being seen to show levity undermining their work. And even then, it would seem like they’re being a bit ridiculous.

      1. Junior Assistant Peon*

        I can’t believe how in 2021, tablets and smartphones have gotten so user-friendly that a toddler can use them, but printer makers have made zero progress in the last 30 years. Printers are nearly unusable if you don’t have a full-time IT department to babysit them.

        1. many bells down*

          My printer has gotten much smarter, in that it found and connected to my wifi almost by itself!

          I still can’t print black-and-white if I’m low on cyan, though.

          1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

            When it starts learning like that, you should know that the official IT recommendation is to keep a Heavy Object nearby, incase it starts to make noises you do not recognize.

          2. quill*

            I never worry about Skynet. I worry that companies making, say, cars, will become as arbitrary and mercenary as printer companies and that they’ll cut your engine while doing 60 because you filled up with non company-approved gas.

        2. pope suburban*

          …and sometimes, even if you do have IT, you’re in for a bad time. We’ve got these newish terrible ones where I work, and they more or less require a tech to come out. Which is usually the same day, but which is not always quickly the same day. I’ve gotten really, really good at pulling paper out of places that paper shouldn’t be, because it’s either that or wait a mysterious amount of time to print a check or a script.

        3. Lexmark is Angry*

          One of my first post-college jobs was babysitting the printers in a university architecture department. Students from across campus would come use our large format plotter, which only printed from PowerPoint. 80% of my job was telling biology students they had to take their beautiful PDFs expertly created in InDesign or Illustrator and re-make them in PowerPoint.

          1. Can't Sit Still*

            Ow, ow, ow! My brain hurts now. For the love of Mike, why PowerPoint?!!!1!eleventy!!

            1. Phlox*

              And extra eeks because architects don’t design in PowerPoint either!!! Not being able to print direct from autoCAD seems just oooof!

              1. Lexmark is Angry*

                It wasn’t intentional! It was some sort of unfixable driver problem. This was 2005. I sometimes wonder if it ever got better.

        4. Le Sigh*

          So, I comment on this mainly because I largely feel the same way (I’ve been arguing with printers my entire life). But the New Yorker did an article in 2018 about this very issue (“Why Paper Jams Persist”). Basically it boils down to the fact that printers *have* made a lot of progress and one of those ways is getting smaller — but by getting smaller, it creates new, persistent challenges in preventing jams (not really the best summary but that’s kind of what it boiled down to). Interesting article and I def recommend reading it!

        5. Wendy Darling*

          The only thing I printed at home anymore was sheet music and I went out and spent almost $500 on a used ipad pro so I would never have to print again. Now if I need to print something I go to my parents’ house or Staples. I swear to god printers have actually gotten WORSE since the 90s.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Ink is where they get you. I have a huge ancient workhorse HP laser printer I use for printing manuscripts and a wireless color inkjet all-in-one. The giant one takes forever to use up a toner cartridge, which is great because they’re insanely expensive. I use the wireless all-in-one more as a scanner and copier because same.

      2. Em*

        Yeah… I used to work at a law firm that represented banks. So basically the intersection of two Very Serious Fields. We definitely still made jokes from time to time. And by “we”, I mean everyone – partners and clients included. Because sometimes things were funny or ridiculous, or so frustrating that you just had to laugh so you wouldn’t cry. That’s how work (and life in general) is.

        I would flee immediately if I was told I could never make jokes in the workplace. Possibly an overreaction, but I don’t think I’d be able to stop myself.

        1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

          I work in Legal Aid representing poor and otherwise marginalized clients – people who’ve experienced horrific DV situations or severe drug addiction or just the general stuff that comes with living in poverty.

          Our office isn’t a constant barrel of laughs, but extremely dark humor is the norm, for “if you don’t laugh you’ll cry” reasons. I wouldn’t be able to handle an office with no jokes whatsoever.

          1. Contracts girl*

            Just our of college I worked in the group insurance at an insurance company. Some of the policy folders we used in our work had lists of employees in them and some of those names were quite “interesting”. One of my co-workers with an especially dark sense of humor was in charge of the department’s “Name Book”. Whenever someone came across an unusual of funny name, we’d write it down on a slip and bring it to Jim who’d enter in the book. If we worked for the OP’s company, I guess we would all be fired.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              I had a file with the weirdest and silliest sentences to be translated, the silliest mistakes by translators, and the stupidest requests from clients and the boss, which I looked at from time to time for a good laugh.
              No jokes ever would surely be soul-destroying!

      3. Hadespuppy*

        First off, that was a perfect description of copiers, kudos. And second, the excuse that a Very Serious Field would be a no humour zone doesn’t hold up in my experience. Actually serious businesses need that relief valve of humour, often very specific dark humour, in order to handle the nature of what they deal with on a day to day basis.

        Now a company that wants to *think* it is doing Very Serious Business on the other hand…

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I had a long-term temp position in a university hospital department of nuclear medicine, admin supporthe for MD/PhDs doing cancer research.
          It doesn’t get more serious than their work–and they cracked jokes all the time.

          1. Zephy*

            I married into a family with multiple surgeons in it. People in medicine crack HELLA jokes and they get HELLA dark.

            1. starsaphire*

              TRUTH.

              My college BFF was pre-med; her mom was an ER nurse and her brother was an EMT – and her dad was some sort of LEO. I couldn’t get through a family dinner without losing my appetite. But they were just the greatest, most delightful people otherwise – just, you know, except for the dinner table conversation.

              1. JustaTech*

                One of my good friends is an ICU nurse and several years ago we were having drinks (I was asking where I could get a drink at 7am, since my whole group was going to work the night shift) and she said “whatever you do, never, ever drink with nurses.”

                Good advice. No part of biomedical research will ever be that dark.

                1. PeanutButter*

                  When I moved from patient care (paramedic) to biomedical research (bioinformatician in a yeast lab now) I definitely had to recalibrate what sort of stories from my previous life were “funny” for my new co-workers.

          2. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

            I had a summer temp job as an admin assistant at a hospice office. (It was a home hospice service so there weren’t patients onsite.) There was lots of joking and banter in the office. It was actually pretty upbeat.

        2. Anoni*

          I worked a temp job for a damn mortuary and the humor was everywhere. This company is weird, their staff is weird, and the OP might want to consider leaving.

        3. Anonny*

          I hope the no-humour office has a soundproofed screaming breakdown room, because they’re gonna need it.

    3. theothermadeline*

      One of my favorite days was when the copier at work sprayed out a whole trail of bright pink toner onto the floor and my boss and I spent a solid 10 minutes doing a photo shoot with the stuffed unicorn from her desk – posing it to make it look like it had pooped pink stuff all over the copy room.

      If you can’t make fun of the copier, the copier wins.

      1. LavaLamp*

        This happened at my old work. Someone bought off brand ink cartridges. Magenta EVERYWHERE and a sad lack of unicorns. The carpet was ruined in that area and someone brought a throw rug.

      2. KRISKAT*

        My summer job between high school and college (late 70’s) was at a utility company of 99% males. I was first female to have this job (non-secretarial). It was relatively quiet when I was around the first two days until a coworker came up behind me and startled me (on purpose) and I jumped and said “shirt”. He walks away telling everyone…she said “shirt”…we can talk now! They welcomed me back the following summer too! We couldn’t have made it without humor. Fast forward to job of 33 years as an admin with mechanical engineers…none of them could fix the copier or the plotter!!

    4. MissMaple*

      I literally have a running joke email thread with my boss right now about the printers. That’ll happen when you have to print three different sizes of paper and at least three materials daily :) Like the weather, the terribleness of printers is one of the things that’s on my list of safe topics for any conversation!

    5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I think the whole office needs to sit down, watch Office Space together, and then OP needs to say – you see the way they treated that fax machine! That is the normal relationship people have with office machinery! We need to be able to mock it playfully with one another, or someone’s going to lose it one day and that poor copier will be in pieces in a field somewhere!

      1. Older & Wiser*

        Actually, I wouldn’t recommend it. Back when Office Space was a relatively new-to-video movie, my office DID watch it together at a social event. Management didn’t find it very funny at all–it hit a little bit too close to home; my workplace had a lot of “Office Space”-isms. Some of us had already seen the movie, so it was really uncomfortable, because you couldn’t laugh with the real versions of the characters sitting right there,.

    6. Anonys*

      I just wonder how the other employees found out about this policy?!- it doesnt seem like something that was in the handbook or told to OP upfront.

      Did they ALL have an uncomfortable experience with HR and their manager? Or do they usually hire people who are naturally incredibly serious or that just picked up on the culture very intuitively? But that doesn’t make sense either because if you don’t explicitly know about the policy you would maybe find a joke odd in that environment but not report OP to HR for her joke like the coworker did.

      I defo think OP should talk to some coworkers and ask about the policy and how they found out about it and then update us. Please!

    7. Momma Bear*

      What really baffles me is how the boss took this TO HR instead of just having a quick conversation with OP. It would worry me that something so seemingly innocuous is seen as 1. requiring the boss’ intervention and 2. requiring a talking to from HR. I’d be very concerned about my ability to have a comfortable working relationship with my peers knowing that they would run to my boss/HR instead of talking to me directly. The no jokes thing is weird, but their reaction is weirder.

      1. Vito*

        I have the feeling that the Cow-orker went to HR and HR went to OP’s Boss and Boss and HR ganged up on OP.

    8. Winston*

      It’s not just that they have a heavy-handed policy but also that the coworker immediately reported it.

      1. Zephy*

        Right, this is what jumped out at me, too. I would LOVE to know what that conversation looked like.

      2. Properlike*

        “One thing you need to understand is that Roz is the eyes, ears, nose, and throat of Mr. Hart. What she hears, he hears… If you want to gossip in the ladies’ room, first check under the stall for her shoes.”

    9. Elise*

      Right, it is the blandest and most universal joke to make in an office! I remember my boss came to one of my team meetings early on in my supervisory days and complimented me on how much the team laughs and seems to really enjoy spending time together. I don’t know what I’d do if we were not allowed to laugh. I would be fired already.

    10. wendelenn*

      We have a sign on our printer: “Rage Against the Machine never specified what type of machine they were furious with but I reckon it was probably a printer.–John Moynes (tweet)”

    11. Glitsy Gus*

      Right? I can’t think of any place I’ve worked where you wouldn’t get at least one comment about going “Office Space” on the stupid printer/copier if it didn’t start to behave.

    12. Kristina*

      Right? I find multiple aspects of my job to be pretty intensely miserable, and even WE named our copiers. Their names are Joseph (Stalin) and Bob (Marley, bc he be jammin’).

    13. Underfunded Govt Employee*

      Right? I find multiple aspects of my job to be pretty intensely miserable, and even WE named our copiers. Their names are Joseph (Stalin) and Bob (Marley, bc he be jammin’).

    14. lyonite*

      Oh sure, making jokes about the copier is funny now, until someone takes it out into a field and beats it with a baseball bat. After the last time that happened, they aren’t taking any chances.

    1. Wine Not Whine*

      “If we wanted you to use humor in the office, there would be a line item in the budget for it and a formal policy covering where, when, and what to use.
      “Since no such line item nor policy exists, you should conclude that we do not use humor here.”
      —this office’s version of “if the Army wanted you to have a spouse, they’d have issued you one”

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        If there’s no time-tracking entry for humor, then it’s not a permissible use of time.

      2. knitcrazybooknut*

        “This line item will always be approved on your expense report, unless your receipt also lists a side order of guacamole.”

    2. Perfectly Particular*

      Is this company privately owned? Because this sounds like quirky millionaire nonsense. I can think of a few reasons – like perhaps someone high up is neurodiverse and doesn’t understand jokes very well, or like others have said, maybe there was sexual harassment gone awry. As for what you should do…. just monitor for other quirks…. At my last company, we had all kinds of weird rules/culture due to our eccentric owner, but none of them made the place feel toxic or unworkable. I stayed for 14 years. As you get to know your coworkers, they will probably clue you in on the origin of this, and any other weird office culture. I’m not sure how I would do there…. Sarcasm seeps out of me when I’m comfortable with my peers and line managers.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        This is what I was thinking too: Everyone humoring (no pun intended) the quirky Big Boss and suck-ups running to tattle.

        I don’t think you’d have to worry about sarcasm popping out when you get comfortable because it doesn’t sound like a place where anyone would ever get fully comfortable (which might be the point).

      2. First time listener, long time caller*

        It’s a secret government agency funded by patenting and selling alien technology.

      3. sb51*

        Yeah, but if it was, why not just say that? “We value a community where all employees, including those who take things very literally and have difficulty understanding sarcasm/humor, can feel valued and equal, so we don’t make this kind of joke. We know it’s an adjustment, but please try to remember; I promise it gets easier as you get used to it!”

        Like, with an international workplace, I and many of my coworkers have had to learn to edit slang out (inoffensive slang) that is just not understood outside a context of a bunch of people who grew up with American English-language media and culture.

  1. Save the Hellbender*

    Besides the fact that my soul would die there, I’d be concerned that you were reported to HR by two separate people for the copier joke.

    1. Well...*

      Yes, this raises my eyebrows more than the no-humor policy. And the no-humor policy is already really strange.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Yes. Wouldn’t a kinder response be to tell the OP about the policy? I try to warn new staff away from potentially sticky topics that there’s no way they would know to avoid.

        1. Phantom*

          To be fair, if someone told me my company had a no humor policy, I’d probably assume it was a joke and laugh. Then, they might get in trouble for having made me laugh. Too much risk, easier to call HR.

          1. Anononon*

            This is seriously Douglas Adams/Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy levels of bizarre and surreal!

            1. Phoenix Wright*

              Does OP work for Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz? Because he made it clear that if he’s not having a good time, then no one else can.

          2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            To be fair, if someone told me my company had a no humor policy, I’d probably assume it was a joke and laugh. Then, they might get in trouble for having made me laugh. Too much risk, easier to call HR.

            Yea, any other policy and that’d be kind, but this is so far beyond bizarre that someone with authority has to deliver the insane news.

            1. Ladybugger*

              “this is so far beyond bizarre that someone with authority has to deliver the insane news.” made me laugh so hard.

          3. Sparkles McFadden*

            During one of my performance reviews, my boss admonished me thusly: “You need to stop laughing at things other people don’t find funny. You should only laugh when other people are laughing too. If you are laughing and they are not, it makes people feel bad.”

            Yeah. I laughed at that.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I would have a hard time not asking for a comprehensive list of things that are appropriately funny to laugh at.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      +1000

      Either everyone has bought into this way too much or they’re living in fear of their bosses and HR and felt they had to report you in case somebody else heard it and reported *them* for not reporting it.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Well also, I’d be afraid of saying something not meant to be funny, and then someone else thinking it was funny, and then getting in trouble because the other person thought it was meant to be a joke. It’s not like that doesn’t ever happen to people (the misinterpreting part, not the getting in trouble part).

        1. I'm just here for the cats*

          I would be afraid of this too. I would say at least once a week I might be saying something and I walk right into a joke or a pun without even trying to.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            I do this a lot more often than I want to. I was raised in a pretty sheltered environment and I didn’t learn a lot of slang terms, particularly the drug and body part related ones, so sometimes when I’m making a completely sincere statement, I accidentally say something that sounds like a dirty joke. I’m not doing it on purpose, it just happens! It can be embarrassing if it happens around the wrong people, and getting called to HR over it is pretty much my worst nightmare.

            1. JustaTech*

              I had a college professor use the phrase “blow your wad” meaning “spend all your money” in class. Until the entire class burst out laughing I had no idea it had another meaning. (The professor was mortified and apologized profusely to the entire class and then the whole school.)

        2. Shirley Keeldar*

          Actually, I’d probably be pretty safe at this office because nobody ever gets my jokes. They are extremely funny inside my head, but apparently just meaningless when spoken aloud.

          1. OhNo*

            Hmm, you bring up an interesting point. Half of my “jokes” are just references to internet culture things that no one in my office gets but me. So, heck, I might be fine here as long as I didn’t crack myself up too badly.

      2. mf*

        Yeah, the culture sounds terrible. Either everyone is ratting on their coworkers or they’re living in fear of management.

      3. Pippa K*

        Yeah, this is the point at which I think OP needs to be concerned that this is a deeply, deeply authoritarian organisation with remarkably high levels of compliance. If they’re policing conversation to this degree and with this level of participation by coworkers, there are probably other, maybe more serious, restrictions and intrusions too. Keep a bag packed and your documents in order; you may need to flee without warning.

        Out of curiosity, are you required to have a portrait of Dear CEO on your own cubicle or office wall?

        1. Grand Admiral Thrawn Will Always Be Blue*

          At least they didn’t point to her and start screaming a la pod people!! Which I’m kinda thinking her co workers might be. After all, we’ve been hearing about the UFOs lately….. maybe we know where they have set up shop. :)

    3. cubone*

      The “someone else who overhead it reported it too” part was the most unsettling bit of this letter to me. It points to this policy being very well-known, or employees being very willing to run to HR for every infraction (which is good/bad depending on the workplace). Or, worse: both?

      1. mourning mammoths*

        And on top of this, I’m struggling to understand the kind of culture (read: baggage) it takes for the first step to be reporting directly to HR, instead of talking to the *new employee* directly first. What on earth could be the cost of giving the newbie a heads up about the policy and how it is applied?

        1. LabRat*

          To be fair, if a coworker at a new job told me that, I’d think they were joking.

          I wonder what turnover is like here? How many new people have been told about this policy and noped on out?

        2. Bee*

          To be fair, I would absolutely not want to be the one who has to have the “We have a no humor policy. No, really. No, REALLY” conversation.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Police your words, your actions and your face because they are always watching. This workplace found a new way to be toxic.

      2. Happy*

        Mind control. Stepford wives. I couldn’t do it! I can see myself busting out in a mini-comedy routine and laughing hysterically at myself in the middle of the day. Absurd!!!

    4. Homebody*

      Ikr???! And why did no one just, I don’t know, talk to the LW about it instead of escalating to HR?!

      I’d be leaving before they put me on a PIP for saying good morning to everyone when I got into work!

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I would have never been hired! I’ve probably made jokes in every single interview I’ve ever been in.

          1. starsaphire*

            For me it’s almost a nervous tic. I feel uneasy or uncomfortable; I break the tension by making a pun or a silly joke. Two separate jobs with “trench warfare” mentality only encouraged that – we were all sliding into dark-humor relief on a daily basis.

            I would have been tossed out of the interview on my ear, for sure. And considered it a bullet dodged. I’m a writer; playing with words is my nature, and being told that’s “unprofessional” is just… anathematic to me.

        1. Scrooge McDunk*

          Yes! I always always bring a joke or a bit of light humour into an interview because it tends to make everybody feel a bit more relaxed. It’s only backfired once, and it backfired SPECTACULARLY. I was explaining what a wide range of tasks I took on as EA to the departmental VP when, having Pretty Woman on the brain after having caught it on TV the night before, the words “I’m kind of like his beck and call girl” came flying out of my mouth. I turned bone white, dug a hole, and promptly crawled into it to die of humiliation. I did not, as you might imagine, get the job.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Oh dear! I’d have laughed at myself and said something like “Oh that didn’t quite come out as I intended. Is ‘Girl Friday’ any better?”

            No I wouldn’t, I never think of the right thing to say until several hours later. This is why I love online convos.

      2. The Rural Juror*

        Right! No one thought, “Oh, LW doens’t know. I should inform them so they don’t repeat this mistake!” Two different people had the immediate reaction to report them. Sheesh! I’d be out there in a flash!

    5. Observer*

      Yes, that made my head snap back. Someone overheard a remark and went to HR about it?! I know we generally say that “tattling” is not a concept that has much place in the workplace, but honestly, that’s what this feels like. It’s not like you said something showing bigoted, violent or other problematic tendencies. Just bizarre.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Now I’m wondering if it extends to self-depricating humour – like if I made an offhand joke about any of my medical issues and what they limit me to would I still be hauled up in front of HR?

        1. quill*

          Oh yes, the more I think about this the more I think that this is a symptom of Toxic Positivity Poisoning – Professionalism variation.

          This amount of language policing is a symptom of extreme vigilance over workers’ speech in general, not just a “quirk.”

          They absolutely will get punitive in other ways if LW tells them something they don’t want to hear… whether or not it starts with “knock knock.”

      1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        The Stasi would at least have the common courtesy to let you know it was a good joke after imprisoning your entire family.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      Yeah. One person is “Dan is very literal, and we just work around that.” Multiple people is “and then at the fourth quarter review they revealed they were the shape-shifting lizard people you’re always reading about, and lizards don’t understand mammalian humor.”

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yes, this! This sounds like such a blatant misuse of HR time and authority, but apparently that’s the culture in OP’s new workplace? that people seem to have eagerly adopted? Not gonna lie, the place would give me daily panic attacks. I’d be up every night worried about whether I’d accidentally made a joke. I would not be a good fit.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yeah, does the HR literally not have anything better to do? If you’re going to have a policy this weird, at least you could tell people about it upfront!

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Great point – I’m not a fan of how they surprised OP with that policy, like it’s something normal that should be expected from a workplace, and not something out-of-this-world bizarre that new hires have no way of knowing about unless someone tells them!

    8. Wintermute*

      THIS is what stuck out to me.

      I wouldn’t be able to recover from this, mentally, I would be on eggshells wondering what might get me in front of HR, because apparently this isn’t a place people TALK to one another, they run right to HR demanding reprimands. That’s actively hostile (in the colloquial sense, obviously not a legal “hostile workplace” sense), it’s so far from collegial relationships that being there would be like a petty version of living under some bizarre dystopian dictatorship where they’re so repressive they not only have the secret police, but a secret fire department and the covert ambulance service too.

      1. Sharrbe*

        And can you imagine explaining to the outside world that you were fired because your co-workers kept turning you in for making copier jokes and smiling? Or when an interviewer asks why you were let go from your last job?

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I would say that’d gain a candidate instant sympathy at a job interview? (At least based on my own long-ago panel interview where, when asked “why are you looking to leave your job so soon?” I explained that, after I’d reluctantly agreed to a downtown location and 20-mile commute in heavy traffic, I was, on my first day, surprised with the news that I’d have to work *both* at that location and at a client location that had a 65-mile commute from my home; sometimes required to go to both on the same day, but mainly to the one 65 miles away. There was an “aaaahhhh” over the room and they warmed up to me immediately – I got the job and worked there for six years.)

          1. HelenofWhat*

            Yeah, I got fired for dropping something off at a partner business’s location on Friday evening rather than Monday morning (when it was collateral that needed to be displayed Monday morning). No complaints from the partner, I thought it was good to get it done early. Partner forgot to put out collateral, and I got fired. There were a couple of other things that were genuine, extremely minor things (my boss was looking for reasons to fire me, and clearly afraid of a lawsuit).

            I explained the situation factually and with humility in interviews, and every interviewer was kind about it.

        2. Properlike*

          This. I would be so tempted to react with “malicious compliance” — or non-compliance. Because I want to collect unemployment for “smiling” and have a job story that never, ever gets old.

          1. ampersand*

            It would be so tempting to make jokes that sounded like they not jokes, and then, when inevitably confronted again by HR, continue to insist that you actually MEANT what you said. “Oh, no, I really DID think it might take me years to figure out the copy machine! I’m so grateful it only took five minutes.” Followed with a look of intense concern about the possibility of spending years figuring out the copier.

      2. Pickled Limes*

        Yes. I worry about whether the OP will be able to form relationships with her coworkers at this job. Even if the people she works with are helpful and polite, if they never talk about anything other than work and they’re never allowed to laugh together, and they’re encouraged to solve disagreements by bringing in HR instead of having conversations with each other, does that allow for the kind of workplace friendships OP wants?

    9. DoubleE*

      Yes, the fact that 2 people felt the need to report something like this instead of just clueing in a new colleague says something about the culture. Either leadership has put a very strong emphasis on the enforcement of this policy, or this is a culture where people have a tendency to tattle on each other (or maybe the former led to the latter). Either way, I’m very curious what the history is behind this policy.

    10. kittymommy*

      I couldn’t do it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a work environment I would be the most uncomfortable in than this.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Not without involving behaviors forbidden under most corporate anti-harassment policies.

        1. PeanutButter*

          Honestly I’ve worked in places like that…this would be worse. I’ve worked in male-dominated, bro-y fields most of my life and have experience dealing and shutting down unacceptable behavior. It’s not something I *like* to do and it sucks, but I can do it. This…I would not even know where to start.

      2. Sleepless*

        Same here. This letter is actually giving me the skeeves. My line of work can veer from fascinating to tragic in nanoseconds and we have to take really great care of our mental health. I work with a particularly fun-loving staff right now, and some days the banter is literally the only thing that gets me through the day.

    11. Paris Geller*

      Agreed. I know the OP says she doesn’t think this is a sign of a more flawed workplace, but I think it does. The no humor policy is bizarre, but potentially something I could live with. I don’t think I would like working there, but I could deal for a year or two, gain some experience, and then get out. The fact that TWO people reported her to HR for making a joke about a copier?? THAT’S the red flag. I would be anxious all the time.

      1. Cordelia*

        2 people reported her, HR and the boss then acted on the reports. This level of policing of interactions, I think, has to indicate a more flawed workplace than OP is seeing currently. I’m sorry OP as it sounds like you were excited for this job, but if I was you I would start looking around for something else. If this is how it starts, it only gets worse.
        In your next interview, when they ask you why you left this job, you can tell this story – and if they don’t laugh or express absolute astonishment/horror, you will at least be able to see their red flags a-flying!

      2. CircleBack*

        I can almost understand reporting to HR if it was a more functional workplace culture/concern. As in, “Hey HR person, do you have anything in onboarding to teach new hires about this quirk of our workplace? I overheard NewHire say [something more concerning than a printer joke] and just want to make sure we’re communicating clearly about Quirk.”
        But the appropriate response would be either HR or the boss having a 1 on 1 more casual meeting with the NewHire to explain, not ganging up on NewHire so sternly!

    12. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Yeah, that got my attention too. It sounds like there are at least two coworkers there who are on board hardcore and are listening and ready to report every light use of humor to the humor zealot HR/management team. I think there has to be additional toxicity in this situation that OP just hasn’t had the chance to observe yet.

    13. Just no*

      This was my take too. It’s a really, really, really bad sign that multiple people reported you.

    14. Rox*

      The “reporting” part of this is particularly ominous. That’s indicates to me that the culture is based on backstabbing and secrecy. I would pickup the job hunt quietly and hope to be able to just leave this job off my resume.

    15. RunShaker*

      I thought same thing…..2 coworkers reported OP, manager & HR met with OP to review no humor/jokes ever in work place. Why would HR be involved? Why couldn’t her manager just handle this first conversation? It is alarming to me that HR would be contacted & involved so quickly. It makes me wonder what other weird, controlling rules they have for employees. My soul wouldn’t die due to that I would have used humor during my interview and probably wouldn’t have been hired. Humor (appropriate for work/interview) is great way to break the ice. It also connects coworkers & can help with team moral, as long as it isn’t overboard. I would be looking for another position, ask all questions but add culture to mix, and only leave if you find something that is great fit. Good luck OP.

    16. allathian*

      Yeah, really. And they seem to think that this is so normal that they don’t even give people a heads-up in the interview or when making an offer.

      Oh well, at least the LW will know what to ask at their next interview.

      I’m not one to crack jokes at work all that often, because my sense of humor is decidedly immature (fart jokes FTW!) and NSFW. But I’d go mad if I couldn’t laugh at work, or if I had to stick to strictly business.

      In the LW’s shoes I’d start looking and quitting after a few weeks or months means that this company can be left off the resume.

  2. cubone*

    I know this isn’t helpful at all, but I can’t help but dream that they just need one REALLY REALLY good joke to land and throw them out of their humourless stupor and into the light!

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          … I feel like this would be a movie I could watch. Maybe starring Jon Stewart as the guy who comes in and tries to overturn everything?

          1. Jen in Oregon*

            There is no other Footloose!!! *sticking fingers in my ears* LALALALALALALALA!!!!

        2. Campfire Raccoon*

          I would spend all of my time coming up with hilarious jokes that were actually true statements, and then practice delivering them in a deadpan manner so that no one could report me for having humors.

          No work would be completed, ever.

          1. Jen in Oregon*

            This would be my strategy too. And if anyone ever asks “Is that a joke?” I would reply “How dare you?” while still in an absolute deadpan.

            1. Campfire Raccoon*

              Or the slightly-blank-soulless “I don’t understand. Explain it to me.”

            2. stornry*

              YES! or a confused, “why would you say that?” as is, “are you trying to get me in trouble?”

          2. Donkey Hotey*

            OK, late to the party, but had to add here:
            I was once stuck in a registration queue from hell. People began talking and the volume increased. Head registration person lost their cool and yelled at everyone that the line must remain silent. Just then, the light bulb in the registration room went dark. Assistant got up, went to the supply closet, got a replacement bulb, stood on a chair, ‘squeak’ ‘squeak’, and the light was restored, all in dead silence with 100 people watching. Then a voice, which coincidentally sounded like mine, said, “Well, I guess that answers the question.” The head registration person was not happy with me.

        3. Bryce*

          Quiet meeting, everyone looks bored, door slams open and the hero strides in.
          “That’s not what the duck said last night.”
          Cheering laughter, day is saved, et cetera.

      1. cubone*

        now I’m genuinely wondering if maybe in like 1986 someone made a joke once and another coworker laughed so hard they died? That could explain it?

        (I feel very bad for how funny I find this letter/situation! I’m so sorry LW! I can’t help myself)

        1. Lizzo*

          Or someone has watched “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” too many times, and they want to save all their colleagues from the same fate as the weasels?

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I am kind of hoping OP goes into work soon and the boss and HR and everyone burst out laughing and tell her it was all a prank! That would be way less creepy than this being serious!

      1. Anonymous Hippo*

        Less creepy, but IDK that it would be less red-flaggy. I’d just as soon quit from a company that was humorless as I would one that played jokes involving having a sit-down with HR. So not funny to make you think your job is on the line.

  3. Dust Bunny*

    I mean, I’ve had a couple of coworkers who had to be told to dial it down because you couldn’t get a useful answer out of them and they just talked too much overall, but they were way, way, over the top.

    1. HR TwinCitiee*

      OP- is there like normal conversation at all?? Have you engaged with any of your coworkers? Do they have non work related chats at all? So curious what the environment is like!

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      My boss is the most unintentionally funny person I’ve ever met. He’s not trying at all so am I never supposed to laugh if we worked in this office?!

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I’ve had a couple of coworkers who had to be told to dial it down

      I’m one of those. I think my record was layering 6 jokes into one sentence. So at performance reviews and with new hires, I do intentionally shelve the humor… as long as I can without screaming.

  4. Olivia Rodrigo*

    I would have to quit before I got fired. It would be a great exercise to see how long I could go, but the stakes are too high.

    Good luck OP, this sucks.

    1. Mel*

      If you do get fired, you have a great answer to “Why did you leave your last job?” (At leas

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      This is so over the top, I’d start hunting for a job, but I’d carry a notebook around to take notes on what other insanity pops up in the meantime.

      Also, I would like to request an update from this LW. Please, please, please?

  5. fposte*

    One day they are going to hire somebody who lives to make poker-faced innuendo-laden statements and revels in plausible deniability.

    1. Another health care worker*

      Maybe the LW can become this person? Necessity is the mother of invention.

      1. HardlyLovelace*

        I’ve never laughed so much on an AAM thread, even though the LW has the most sinister workplace I’ve heard of.

    2. PeteyKat*

      Yes! They need to practice the phrase “Who said I was joking? I’m being serious…” with a straight face.

      1. SaffyTaffy*

        Every office needs a Charles Boyle. I pretty much AM the Charles Boyle where I work, and I still want one for my own.

    3. Marthooh*

      Maybe they already hired that somebody. Maybe “You won’t be reprimanded for failing to intuit our anti-humor stance” is actually a next-level prank.

    4. Properlike*

      The Hayes Code for offices. When she’s fired, she can move onto the MPAA ratings board.

    5. Starling*

      Oh, this! Just go full Jane Austen. Sound super polite, but as you parse out the implication…!

  6. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    This screams to me that the CEO or top leader has an issue with humor. Maybe they have no sense of humor. Maybe they are thin-skinned. Maybe they were told at the age of 22 that they must be VERY SERIOUS to be professional. But whatever it is, I bet this starts at the top.

      1. Queer Earthling*

        Considering how sarcastic and dry-humored many Vulcans can be, I don’t even think Spock or Tuvok would be okay in this office.

        1. Cat Tree*

          Maybe Data then? I haven’t watched TNG in a long time, but I think he couldn’t do humor. But he also wouldn’t try to stop others from it.

          1. curly sue*

            There was a character arc with Data where he was studying with holograms of various famous comedians to learn how to tell a joke properly, because he was deeply interested in the concept of humour. So no, not even an android!

            1. wendelenn*

              “Life forms. . . you tiny little life forms. . . you precious little life forms. . . where are you?”

        2. quill*

          Vulcans love humans precisely because they enable this sort of behavior. There is a purpose to humor when it makes your coworkers more efficient.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Nahh, vulcans have quite a sarcastic sense of humour. It’s like working for the greys in Futurama who never ever have any preference or viewpoint – just fact.

          1. Zap Brannigan*

            A lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality?

        1. Queer Earthling*

          The Tal Shiar has reported you to the HR office. (Head Romulan office, obviously.)

            1. Queer Earthling*

              Trying to picture Garak at a humor-free Obsidian Order office.

              He’d be dead in minutes.

          1. Wintermute*

            I thought it was strange when the mandatory company training was oddly obsessed with how many lights there were…

        2. The Prettiest Curse*

          Well, the Borg are pretty humorless, so maybe it’s a version of them and OP will have to get an implant soon….

              1. Grand Admiral Thrawn Rocks that Blue*

                If they stay , they will be. That is the truly scary part. It fascinates and terrifies me just how much of ourselves we have to give up just to stay fed and housed.

          1. Wintermute*

            I wonder if there are borg interns? is someone the adjunct to the copier? I mean I don’t think you just get to start out as the adjunct to Unimatrix-01, unless you know somebody.

      3. Black Horse Dancing*

        Nah, Spock was a master of snark. Especially in the original series. He ripped on McCoy a lot.

      4. Broomhilde*

        Vulcans would NEVER pass on the chance of making fun of those irrational humans (or other species). Bonus points if the humour is too fine for some thick skulls.

        That company is nuts and I’d be fired after 15 Minutes. And I’m usually not even joking on purpose.

      5. SarahKay*

        That was my thought too! But, as other people have commented, even Vulcans have enough of a sense of humour to make an occasional witty remark.

      6. Sandi*

        I’m thinking Vogons (Hitchhiker’s), although the Borg are a reasonable suggestion too.

  7. Jessica*

    To me this has the vibe of someone at the top going “Fine, if you Humorless Killjoys can’t appreciate that my jokes about women and minorities are hilarious, maybe we’ll just become a. Humorless Killjoy Workplace, and see how you like that!”
    So weird. Good luck, LW, and please join the December update parade! I’m eager to hear your take on this joint when you’ve been there a bit longer.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Right? At some point in this company’s history, maybe there was some serious awfulness that someone tried to pass off as “aw, can’t you take a joke?” And the company’s response, instead of making sure the awfulness was dealt with (or perhaps in addition to it), was to ban jokes.

      It would be darkly hilarious, if hilarity were allowed.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        ‘Right, since I got accussed of harrassment for making a comment about Jane’s knockers – despite the fact it was a joke – I’m going to ban any funny comments so that nobody can be accused of harrassment or discrimination ever again’.

        Worse thing is – I know a person who genuinely thinks like this. (Former manager from 3 jobs back)

      2. laowai_gaijin*

        Hilarity is not allowed, you are awarded no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

    2. No Tribble At All*

      Right, or someone made a “smart comment” kind of joke at a really inappropriate time and hit someone’s nerve. But this seems like such an overreaction!

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      Some standup comics are making the same argument. Wokeness, the argument goes, is killing humor. What they are actually telling us without meaning to is that punching down is the only thing they find funny.

        1. Former Young Lady*

          Bingo. Anytime I see a headline about a comedian bemoaning “cancel culture,” it always seems like it’s the first I’ve heard from that comedian in 20 years. “Waaaah, please pay attention to meeee, I am still relevant, airplane food is bad, cab drivers don’t speak English, and women love shopping!”

          1. quill*

            I’m young enough that it’s usually the first time I’ve heard of the comedian, point blank.

    4. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I think your hunch is right. It might not have been the authority figure himself telling the jokes. He might have just genuinely had no idea why the joke behind the HR complaint was offensive, and decided that there’s just no way to predict which jokes someone might get offended at.

      I remember a situation where someone made an official complaint of a joke about people who shop at K-Mart. In 2021, it’s an obvious dig at the rural poor, but circa 2000, the reaction was “would you believe the crazy, random stuff people get offended at?”

    5. Dark Macadamia*

      Michael Scott after sexual harassment training. “I just want you to know that, this is not my decision, but from here on out, we can no longer be friends. And when we talk about things here, we must only discuss work-associated things. And you can consider this my retirement from comedy.”

    6. Aquawoman*

      I had a related but slightly different idea–that someone was making gross statements and then pleading the defense of “I was joking” (see: Schroedinger’s a-hole). For reasons I don’t understand, if certain privilege-having people say they were “just joking,” it seems to negate the possibility of imposing any consequences on them at all. So there was “nothing we can do” except barring humor.

    7. generic_username*

      Seconding the request for an update! This workplace sounds so bizarre that it is incomprehensible….. I’m sure other stuff will come out as she works there longer. Maybe she’ll find a secret club of employees who gather offsite during lunch to actually enjoy each others company with jokes and laughing, and they’ll organize to overthrow the current system.

    8. Artistic Engineer*

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one thinking this. Was definitely my first thought too. Especially that multiple people must have been involved on the team because, otherwise, this multi-reporting would not have happened.

    9. glitter writer*

      That was basically my immediate mental fanfiction, too. Someone once upon a time got told off for telling the kind of jokes you cannot and should not tell in a workplace (or anyplace, for that matter) and it became… this.

    10. Polly Hedron*

      Good luck, LW, and please join the December update parade!

      No! Don’t wait until December! I find this the weirdest ATM post ever. Please, OP, update whenever you find out anything more.

    11. Jessica*

      This is my theory.
      I bet Random Cow-Orker who reported LW was one of the problems (telling sexist/racist/harassing/etc jokes while telling everyone to lighten up) that instigated the rule and now that they have been thwarted by the “no humour” rule than by God they will make anyone else who makes any type of innocuous joke pay because they are the Aggrieved Party in the Lighten Up Brigade.

    12. Electric Pangolin*

      I definitely had the same thought! Someone got reprimanded for saying something offensive and they decided to revenge-report every attempt at humor in a fit of “apparently we’re not even allowed to make jokes anymore these days”…

      1. Polly Hedron*

        Revenge could be motivating that first reporter; but not the rest:
        • the second reporter
        • why OP’s manager and the HR are leaping to enforce the policy
        Some juicy story is behind this.

  8. Mental Lentil*

    I like to make jokes and have a sense of humor in general, but I have worked at one place like this. It’s not that it was verboten, just that nobody really did it. People were easy to get along with and I really enjoyed it. It was one of the best jobs I ever had, actually, and there are days when I miss it. (I don’t miss the low pay or lack of benefits, though.)

    So if nothing else seems odd, give it a shot. It’s only your second job, so if you don’t like it, learn what you can learn and move on after a year or two. It won’t seem odd on your resume given your place in life.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      I mean this in a genuine way: how did you get along with people if you couldn’t make any jokes? I use puns and humor as an icebreaker. I’d never want to talk to anyone if I wasn’t permitted to make them laugh.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I’m bisexual – puns are a deep and important part of our culture. This is borderline discrimination!

        (yes this is a joke. mostly.)

        1. ThatGirl*

          lol I’m also bisexual and now I’m going to claim it’s part of my culture.

          I don’t go around cracking jokes all day or anything, but to be told that humor was BANNED from my workplace? I mean, I’m surrounded by slightly silly toys and collectibles because they cheer up my workspace. I’d be outta there in half a second.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            That’s a thought…would I have to take my Red Dwarf toys off my desk too since that’s a humourous show?

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Bisexual and big fan of puns too! sometimes you just gotta crack wise about it – it’s helped a number of my coworkers come round to the idea that yeah, bisexuals exist and we’re not imaginary creatures.

          (Although if I can be a dragon I’m well up for it)

        3. LC*

          I bet they don’t even have office chairs that allow us to sit with one or both legs in the “wrong” position. How can we be expected to work in those conditions?!

          1. ArtsNerd*

            The “not sitting in seats properly” being bi/pan culture absolutely boggles my mind. If I’d only known growing up that this was a symptom, I’d have saved years of struggling with my identity.

          1. ChemistryChick*

            Chemist here. Can confirm. It’s tough sometimes, because it seems all the good ones argon.

            (I’m sorry, I’ll see myself out.)

            1. nothing rhymes with purple*

              That’s just basic. You can come up with something more noble than that!

          2. not owen wilson*

            I’m a bisexual chemist and I had one of my coworkers turn to me a few weeks ago and go “you REALLY like puns, huh?” so yes, can confirm

        4. Velawciraptor*

          Absolutely! Asking us to abandon humor is as culturally insensitive as asking us to sit in a chair normally or expecting us to make a decision. Just hateful.

          1. ThatGirl*

            I keep learning about things I thought were just “me” that are actually Bisexual Culture :D

        5. Llama face!*

          I’m asexual. We have a running joke that our səx drives were replaced by a random pun generator. I would have failed the interview at that office. I have literally left a job because they had no sense of humour (and also because they forbid having a staff microwave but that’s another story).

      2. The Original K.*

        I once worked for someone without a sense of humor – I made a joke that didn’t land (it was as innocuous as the copier joke), and afterward my coworker was like “Yeah, she doesn’t do humor.” Clients would make similar jokes and she’d just kind of sit there. I got along with her fine by putting out good work and we could also make small talk about whatever – TV, the weather, our commutes. My coworker was getting married and the boss would ask questions about wedding planning, etc. She was nice; she just didn’t do humor.

      3. Myrin*

        I mean, you can be friendly, approachable, and kind without joking.
        I’m a bit of a Funny Guy myself – as in, people always think I’m hilarious even if I don’t try to be – and I absolutely adore stupid puns but thinking about it, I don’t feel like I actively joke a lot at work and yet I still have warm relationships with almost everyone.

      4. Sparkles McFadden*

        I worked in a department where they hated jokes and laughing. They branded themselves as Very Serious and More Important Than the Frivolous Departments. Enjoying yourself at work meant you Were Not Serious About the Very Important Job.

        There was no reprimand for making a joke. You’d just get a dead stare and maybe “Oh. A joke. Yes, that’s funny.” I lasted about three years. I credit that department with vastly improving my deadpan delivery.

      5. Mental Lentil*

        Through normal conversation about work. I mean, it IS work. We’re there to get a thing done. Banter and chit-chat were very low on the priority list.

    2. serenity*

      So if nothing else seems odd

      I think the fact that two people reported her to HR over this is very definitely odd. I think we can debate over what misguided reasons helped originate this policy in the first place forever, but the fact that staff are so rigidly policing and informing on her right out of the gate is a huge red flag. It doesn’t inspire confidence that this is the only “quirk” and can easily be overlooked for very long.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        That part bothered me as well, but it could just be the way they teach you about office norms.

        It would be more obvious if there were big signs with “Humor” written on them with a circle and a slash over them, but I get the sense that this office just wants to be pretty low-key with stuff and doesn’t communicate very well as result.

        But it’s very early on and we only have what LW has written, so I view this as very much more a “wait and see” situation.

    3. Smithy*

      Early in my career I had a job that had it’s own version of a “no staff socializing” culture. While staff chit chat or connecting after work wasn’t policed, there were no staff parties, lunches, happy hours, etc. It was the Executive Director’s dictum that we saw each other enough at work and shouldn’t have to waste our time together doing anything else.

      How this did get policed was that things like celebrating a team member’s birthday, engagement, etc. was forbidden on work premises. Even in the context of “I brought in a cake for Jane’s birthday”. Essentially an extreme reaction to “if we never celebrate anything, no one can get offended because Jane’s cake was nicer than Jack’s”.

      I’m not going to pretend that was the only issue there – but that piece of it over time wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Even at a younger age when I would have liked a workplace with any social outlets, it ultimately became a feature of that job that was more a quirk than a misery.

      The HR reporting by two people is certainly a concern, but then I also saw someone screamed at for bringing a birthday cake to the office.

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      I don’t think the problem is humorless (or anti-humor) culture. The problem is coworkers reporting an innocuous joke to HR and HR calling a meeting immediately.

    5. biobotb*

      Eh, I think that working in an office where no one is particularly funny is very different than working in an office where no one is funny AND they’ll tattle on you if you make a comment that’s even mildly joking. Honestly, I find that aspect of this even more worrisome than the explicit policy against humor (which is bad enough on its own).

    1. NotMyRealName*

      My whole department runs on sarcasm, jokes, and puns. We wouldn’t last 5 minutes.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        My entire IT department would be out in seconds. Literally can’t go a day without a Monty Python reference…

        1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          “The Funniest Joke in the World” was running through my head while I was reading this. Knowledge of said joke’s mere existence might well destroy this company.

          (I wouldn’t last long here, either.)

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Part of our new starter stuff is showing them cool things that you can do with search engines – number one is putting the ‘Funniest Joke In The World’ into Google Translate :p

    2. Lilo*

      Same. I work in a pretty sarcastic office but this level of policing is insane. I’m all for restricting inappropriate jokes but the comment here was so completely innocuous that this is just nuts.

    3. LolaBugg*

      I don’t even know how to communicate without humor. Even as I’m writing this comment I’m debating which Office reference to make.

      “Ah yes, humor. I have it too” -Dwight

    4. It all started with a goat*

      I started this job at 3pm on a Friday. I had one meeting, and then they took me to an all office happy hour. I would have been written up 6 times by the end of the meeting and definitely fired by the end of happy hour if humor wasn’t a thing they accepted.

    5. SomebodyElse*

      I probably would have quipped a joke to HR and boss during the ‘talk’

      Honestly this is so bizarre I’m not sure what to even say about it. I have one rule about my job… I need to laugh at least once a day. If I don’t then it’s time to move on. I don’t expect every day to be a lark with sunshine and rainbows but if I can’t laugh once a day, something is terribly wrong and I need to get out.

    6. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      We have a Laugh Chat where, if you can make another person in the chat make an out-loud noise (snort/laugh/groan/etc.), you get a point. Double points if they have to go on mute for it. All eight of us would be gone by the end of the month, and Humorless Inc LLC would be down six programmers, a trainer and one guy who doesn’t even work at the company.

      (My best was a TPK from a Bernie Mittens meme)

    7. ID*

      I literally don’t think I would be able to follow this rule — and I don’t think most people would. What the OP said wasn’t even really a joke so much as it was an exaggeration / a use of figurative language meant in a lighthearted way. It’s a normal part of how people communicate, and it would take such a huge active effort to stop that I can’t imagine successfully doing it.

  9. Amethystmoon*

    I sure hope this office doesn’t have a Toastmasters club, because one of the new Paths is Engaging Humor. (Though in the legacy program, there was an advanced manual, I think it was called Humorously Speaking.)

  10. HLKHLK1945*

    Dang. Now we know where the Burgermeister Meisterburger ended up after the end of Santa Claus is Coming to Town!!

    1. WFHHalloweenCat*

      I also went the christmas movie route in my brain, though for me it was just Sam Eagle in The Muppet Christmas Carol saying “Business” over and over again

  11. Myrin*

    Quite Odd indeed.
    I mean, good on them for being so straightforward about it and not caring that they sound a bit like a stereotypical dystopian overlord (and I don’t mean that sarcastically! If they have such an unusual policy, it’s good that they aren’t leaving you hanging to figure it out – because honestly, who would ever figure out something like that? – but are indeed vocal about it) but still, Quite Odd.

    1. VanLH*

      But shouldn’t the company mention this to prospective employees during the interview? I might not last a day.

  12. Washi*

    This policy is ridiculous and I would be extra taken aback that my colleague went straight to HR rather than tell me “hey, I don’t know if anyone explained, but we actually are not supposed to make jokes here.” Maybe the intent is an office where everything is super direct and straightforward, but I think the effect on me would be the opposite. I would feel like I was walking on eggshells, not knowing if I was going to be reported and called in for a meeting for a chance remark. I take the OP at her word that the environment feels ok on a day to day basis but I would be so stressed about not saying anything humorous by accident as OP’s joke was the mildest possible form of office humor I can imagine.

    1. Manon*

      I agree that 2 people going straight to HR is over the top, but if a coworker told me, a new employee, that any and all humor is forbidden in the office, I would think they were playing some kind of joke. It’s unbelievably strange.

      1. Aquawoman*

        This was my thought, too, that maybe co-worker realized that LW needed to learn of the policy but prior efforts to explain had not worked very well. (Heck, LW (rightfully) couldn’t even quite wrap her head around it even in the Serious Meeting with HR and the Boss).
        If someone tries to explain the office humor policy and the other person is sure they are joking, does that make the first person a violator of the office humor policy?

        1. quill*

          They could have had a training, though! Preemptive acknowledgement! The fact that they were lying in wait to spring this on OP via HR is the weirdest part, because… how long do they wait for each new hire to make a joke before telling them about this policy? I think 90% or more of their newbies are going to joke at some point during the training period.

          1. JB*

            Do y’all really just roll up to a new social group and start cracking jokes before you’ve heard anyone else do so? How do you gauge what the appropriate kind of humor is for that group?

            1. quill*

              I mean, some jokes are 1) very bland and 2) the trial balloons that you use to see what the culture is? That copier joke is one of them. There’s also the weather. And “hope I don’t get lost at new work building haha” plus other jokes that are like “I’m new, be patient, help me calibrate my social knowledge.”

    2. Pigeon*

      I’m kind of wondering if humorlessness is just the vibe of this place, and it had literally never come up before (so not an “official policy” but an overreacting boss dealing with a completely unexpected situation?

      I realize that sounds ridiculous, but I’ve met people whose ideal workplace really is to go in, do the work, do nothing but the work, have everything be focused, quiet, and impersonal, and then go home. Maybe they all managed to congregate in one place and there’s a silent, agreed culture that’s just well outside the norm.

      1. I edit everything*

        But for TWO people to report it to HR? That’s more than just “Oh weird, someone made a joke.”

        1. Sharrbe*

          Yep. The person to whom the joke was directed is either a true believer or was afraid that he would get written up if he didn’t report it. Getting called into HR for making a joke is messed up enough but can you imagine getting called into HR for hearing a joke and not saying anything? “Why didn’t you come to us, Bill. Patty told us the new person told you a joke and you did not notify us.”

          1. Despachito*

            Do you think that “Oh, it was a joke? I did not get it” could run as an excuse?

            How very odd (and I say this as someone who thinks that sarcasm is almost always off-putting and many a time I felt second-hand embarassment for a jester who thought they were funny”, but to ban a bland copier humor, and to report a colleague to HR for it… what the what???)

            OP, would it be safe for you to ask around what happened (I imagine nothing less than a joke backfiring awfully and killing several people in the process, or something of the sort. Otherwise… what the what…..?)

  13. Audrey Puffins*

    I’m racking my brains and all I can think of that makes any sense is that maybe this is one of those workplaces that works extra hard to be as inclusive as possible and has found that humour/sarcasm/anything other than the straightest of straight-talking makes it an uncomfortable environment for autistic co-workers? Either that or it’s run by this woman I know who considers all humour inherently oppressive to *someone* and therefore will not accept jokes into her life. The fact that you got reported to HR rather than someone quietly taking you aside to fill you in though, that’s a weirdly big step.

    1. Another health care worker*

      The only thing I could think of is that some decision-maker is an entitled white man who was tired of being called out for his racist or sexist jokes. So he decided to ban all humor of any kind in the office. It reminds me of every time I’ve raised an objection to a white man’s (offensive) joke, and instead of listening to any objections or learning what the problem is, he just says “Fine! I’ll never use humor again, if people can’t take a joke!”

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Like the guys who when told they couldn’t make leering remarks to the women in the office (“but it’s a compliment!”) went and said “fine, we’re never going to say a nice word to any woman ever again!”

      2. Just a Thought*

        Or they are in the middle of being sued for “joking” that was actually harassment.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I jumped to autistic-friendly workplace as well.
      I think the OP may be feeling like someone turned them in to HR, but it may be more of that someone heard the joke and wondered why the OP wasn’t briefed on the culture and asked someone in HR. And then HR stopped by to check-in and follow up.

      1. Charlie*

        I did wonder if maybe the letter writer is the lone neurotypical and everyone else was autistic. But yeah, being autistic myself, that doesn’t quite add up because I still think it’s completely bizarre. A few weeks ago our manager left us a note saying that she’d put bleach down the toilet. (We were confused too.) We made her a certificate saying she’d won a toilet award for champion bleaching. I don’t think I would last long at a no-humour workplace.

    3. NoviceManagerGuy*

      Surely there’s an in-between that would still be navigable for autistic coworkers yet permit jokes about spending a couple of years with the copier.

    4. sequitur*

      It’s possible, but autism is such a varied thing that this policy might make the office more inclusive for some autistic folks, but less so for others. I’m autistic myself, and I make jokes and puns at work all the time, use light sarcasm where it’s appropriate etc. I’d really struggle in this kind of working environment even if it the intent was to make it more autism-friendly.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        My daughter is autistic. She has a strong sense of humor, some of which intersects with my own.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’m autistic, so is my husband although we’re at different parts of the spectrum – and neither of us could cope with a humourless office. Crikey, the amount of geek jokes that fly around this house on a regular basis would probably constitute an entire standup routine.

      3. quill*

        Yeah, I find the idea that this necessarily stems from autism bizzare. Autism is many things, and taking everything literally is not always one of them… neurodivergence struggling with humor can have many different starting points, such as not picking up on tone of voice, all the way to the other end of the spectrum with Doing Way Too Much with tone of voice. Same with puns (not recognizing both meanings all the way to getting confused with which meaning is the main idea and which is the joke.) Same with referential humor (I did not understand that reference all the way to Darmok and Jalad.)

      4. Tau*

        Same. I actually remember struggling with (some kinds of) jokes, especially sarcasm, when I was growing up, but humor is just so omnipresent in life and so necessary to fit in socially that by the time I was an adult I had a good handle on it and was using it myself. I suspect that’s going to be pretty common among autistic people, honestly.

        What is definitely not autistic-friendly, I have to say, is reacting to the violation of an unwritten social norm by reporting the perpetrator to HR and having a Serious Talk instead of just addressing it clearly and directly in the moment. Aiyeee, this is the stuff nightmares are made of.

        1. Blue*

          Tau, oh God yes. I’d literally go non-verbal under that kind of scrutiny. Which might be what they want, I guess?

      5. Divergent*

        Yes, I use jokes as a way of defusing NT folks’ discomfort around my autistic behaviours, and to normalize them. And… it works!

    5. Green great dragon*

      This was my thought – someone has heard that some autistic/neurodivergent people find it harder to understand some sorts of jokes and has gone for the simplistic ‘ban all jokes’ approach.

      1. Feral Faerie*

        The LW doesn’t specify the industry they’re in, but I’m having trouble imagining any traditional workplace where someone would care so much about being accommodating to neurodiverse people that they’d outright ban humor. Most workplaces across the board do not care about making accommodations to neurodivergent people at all.

        1. darcy*

          Yeah the biggest clue that it’s not an accommodation for a neurodiverse person is that it requires effort from a lot of people. If someone actually needed this for medical reasons they’d be much more likely to be told to go kick rocks.

      1. nonbinary writer*

        Seriously, it’s bizarre and just inaccurate. Some of the funniest people I know are autistic.

    6. English, not American*

      As a slightly autistic person, I rely heavily on stock jokey answers to compensate for my inability to converse easily on the fly, so this policy would actually cripple me socially!

      1. Queer Earthling*

        Yeah I’m probably on the autism spectrum, and I make up for my social weirdness by being kinda funny. This would be very stressful! However, it’s not out of the question that the office is the one misunderstanding how autism works.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Yeah, I learnt early that if I can make people laugh they’re far less likely to label me ‘crazy’ and believe I’m somehow dangerous because my brain works differently to them.

          Also I crack jokes about my spinal injury, my arthritis, the fact I need walking aids..etc. as a coping mechanism for all of that. Without humour I’m left with no way to deal.

          1. Tau*

            Also autistic, also joke, and I think you’ve hit on something there – getting people to laugh with you is an easy way to look more neurotypical than you are, or at least get categorised as “the sort of weird we like”.

            I will say that I’ve tried joking about my stutter but it always goes over like a lead balloon. People laugh at my other jokes, and I think “when I am emperor of the English language I will ban the letter ‘G'” is at least worth a chuckle, but they always look terrified and change the subject. I figured there’s some sort of deep-seated terror of laughing at someone’s disability making them a terrible human being even when I’m actively inviting them to do so – do you run into any issues like that?

            1. Idril Celebrindal*

              For what it’s worth, I think that joke is funny and I would laugh if you made it around me. :)

              But yeah, I think you’re right that it’s terror of laughing at a disability, and a lot of people had “never, ever laugh at someone’s stutter no matter what” drilled into them in early childhood, and they’ve never broken that programming. Nevermind that now they are the ones making things really awkward by not taking the conversational cues from you

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                To an outside observer I dare say me laughing at the fact my husband has to help me get dressed this morning (bad days mean my upper spine won’t move) looked weird and him laughing back looked cruel.

                It wasn’t. I just quipped that he’d better not put me in anything pink and he’d remarked that men’s clothes were far less hassle than women’s so how about he dress me to match him.

            2. Anon the Third*

              I have damaged vocal cords from an accident and used to say that it ruined my career as an opera singer, which I thought sufficiently over-the-top to register as a joke. Sadly it wasn’t, and people only looked more horrified and sorry for me. It’s a shame, because I still think it’s a hilarious joke

            3. Keymaster of Gozer*

              I may borrow that joke! (Have a stammer, although it’s only bad when I’m stressed.)

              Generally people don’t join in the jokes as it were, so it’s just me cracking wise about how I’m generally more restricted than them. I’m not out about having schizophrenia at work but I am here and have had a few times where others have been offended over my comments- because it can look like I’m making it out to be no big thing, or easily managed or just a quirk of personality etc.

              So, no, never really encouraged others to join in with the jokes. I probably wouldn’t mind but they probably would.

      2. Flor*

        Same here. I’m autistic and make jokes because unscripted social interaction makes me uncomfortable – and also because I do indeed have a sense of humour and a sarcastic streak. Not being able to make jokes in the office would put me on perpetual tenterhooks, and “the straightest of straight-talking” would leave me constantly worried that people were annoyed at me.

    7. Spencer Hastings*

      Or ESL colleagues, yeah.

      And there are indeed theories of humor that explain the function of humor as lowering someone’s social status. That makes sense for the sort of joke where the punch line is like “haha, John is fat” or whatever. But I don’t think that kind of theory *explains* humor, because of the kind of joke the LW describes (and honestly, this is the kind of joke I make the most often as well).

      Namely, having trouble with a new copier is basically a universal experience, and you can be an expert on your old type of copier and still be utterly helpless when faced with the new one. And you’re going to get trained on the actual software and stuff you need to use for your job, but nobody’s going to train you on how to use the copier. So those weird differences between the UIs on different brands are going to pop up, and affect *everyone*. And that’s why they’re funny!

    8. TWW*

      This was my first thought. I had a coworker who didn’t easily understand non-literal styles of communication such as metaphor, sarcasm and hyperbole.

      We didn’t need an office policy to accommodate him, but I learned not to say “5 years” when I actually mean “several minutes.”

    9. Aquawoman*

      JME but I would not consider this an autism-friendly policy. Having to police the way you say things is not a good fit for autism.

      1. Green great dragon*

        Agreed. But I can absolutely see someone thinking that it would be an autism-friendly policy.

    10. Feral Faerie*

      My sibling is autistic and does stand up. They’d get fired from this type of job in less than a day. Autistic people are not a monolith, and portraying them across the board as humorless or unable to comprehend jokes is an inaccurate stereotype. I don’t have autism but I’m neurodivergent and I can think of a number of ways that an office more inclusive to people who struggle to pick up on when someone’s joking.

      1. Blue*

        Yeah, I’m autistic and I’d be…just completely unable to communicate, I think, if I had to police my speech for any hint of anything vaguely amusing or non-literal like this! Not to mention I have no idea how to be a disabled person in public if I’m not allowed to be jokey about it – it is The. Only. effective way to calm abled people down and put them at ease about it, and The. Only. way to convince people that you’re a person, not a walking (or non-walking) tragedy.

        I mean, we’re not even talking about cracking jokes here, we’re talking about mild exaggeration for comic effect. What the hell happens if you absent-mindedly say you’re a zombie till you’ve had your second coffee?

        1. Wisteria*

          That joke is punching down at Zombie Americans, and it would not be tolerated in an inclusive workplace.

    11. HardlyLovelace*

      Eh, I am very much autistic and joking is the foundation of my personnality. Not being allowed to joke is what I would find oppressive. But then again, when you’ve met an autist, you’ve met an autist.

    12. ampersand*

      I had the same thought re: autistic coworkers, but now I want to hear about the woman who thinks that all jokes oppress someone, somewhere. Like what if you’re making a joke about, say, an inanimate object? Is that allowed, or no?

    13. Wren*

      I’m autistic. The few jokes I don’t get are usually either at my own expense or are punching down.

  14. Admin 4 life*

    That is definitely a first for me. I’m wondering what the history is. I’ve worked with autistic peers and there can be a lot of miscommunication around jokes and sarcasm. Perhaps they found it easier to do away with humor all together? Either way, joking about getting up to speed with a piece of equipment does not warrant a visit with HR. Your boss could have simply mentioned that the company avoids humor due to …. Whatever the reason is and then left it at that.

  15. Kristina*

    What a weird letter! I don’t think I’d make it. Inevitably I’d joke ‘too much’ if the copier comment was over the line.

  16. UNCDave*

    I wonder if there was, sometime in the mist-shrouded past, a lawsuit of some kind that arose from ‘humour’ and liability issues are what is responsible for this policy?

  17. The Original K.*

    This … is really weird. Is all small talk forbidden? Can you ask how someone’s weekend was without being written up by HR? Can you say “It looks like it’s going to rain” or talk about a movie you just saw and liked without penalty?

    I mean, I don’t think we need to be constantly cracking jokes all day; the work needs to get done. But an office where no one ever laughs and colleagues’ interactions with each other are policed to this extent sounds pretty awful, and I’m not sure how long I would last. We’re not robots.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      “It looks like it’s going to rain”
      “Yes, it does. By the way, you’re fired.”

    2. No Tribble At All*

      Right? The concerning parts to me are (1) a separate coworker overheard this and snitched, and (2) OP has yet to hear any small talk or chitchat about non-work-related things. That implies that the employees are self-policing… making me even more nervous about trying to get to know people. How are you supposed to build any kind of relationship other than fear with your coworkers if you might get reported for Aiding and Abetting ChitChat??

      1. RVA Cat*

        Hellish old factories like Triangle Shirtwaist used to ban workers from talking.
        OP may want to check that the fire exits aren’t locked….

        1. Wintermute*

          Even then they’d often hire “lectors” oftentimes, to read to employees (leading to many factory workers being quite educated in classical literature and aware of current events and politics). So this place is officially worse than a gilded age robber baron’s factory line.

    3. efb*

      This is what would stress me out — is it strictly jokes that are banned, or are you not allowed to express any amusement at all? The only way my coworkers and I can get through the day sometimes is by being amused by the craziness/antics/frustration of our work.

    4. I edit everything*

      “How was your weekend?”
      “Nice, we went to see…oh, never mind. It was a comedy.”

    5. Mr. Obstinate*

      I might like this kind of work environment, actually. Maybe not forever, but at least for a few weeks/months. It would be a relief from the continual distractions of coworkers chatting (with one another and at me) while I am needing to concentrate on detail-oriented work.

      Of course if I had a workload/workflow similar to those of my coworkers, I would find the distractions less stressful. Ultimately the frustration comes from my need to concentrate on a lot more work than my coworkers need to concentrate on; they’re freed up for chatting because I’m assigned their work. The imbalance means that the company culture promotes more chatting than I can afford to do.

    6. meyer lemon*

      They plan to resolve this with their new corporate style guide, where there are no words for concepts or entities that exist outside the confines of the office. The only word for “weekend” is “unwork-timewaste” and if you say it, your coworkers will be forced to drag you into the happy hour room for interrogation.

  18. Clawfoot*

    I have to wonder how they handle it when they DO have a meeting with an external client and the client makes a joke. Do they know how to deal with it? Do they give it a polite golf clap? Do they give a stiff, unnatural smile and then get on with things? This is SO WEIRD.

    1. Virginia Plain*

      I imagine the conflict between client service and humour intolerance causes a short circuit and a catastrophic system failure, smoke starts to come out their ears and it all ends like Ash in Alien.

    2. arjumand*

      They exchange looks. One of them speaks into their watch.
      “We’ve found one.”

      Also, I’m reminded of the retail worker who was at wrapping station and got written up for singing “This is how we glue it” – I can’t remember if I read it here or on reddit.

    3. B.Jellybean*

      My coworkers and I decided that they would need to look around suspiciously and then frantically whisper “STOP. YOU ARE GOING TO GET US ALL FIRED.PLEASE.” And then speak in a louder voice about invoicing or something equally banal.

  19. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I couldn’t work there. I am definitely too funny.

    (Or at least I think I am)

    This sounds terrible though. I don’t even like people and not being able to have occasional small talk about a new movie or TV show or whatever with a coworker would make me feel like I was in prison or something.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      A former boss (and 2 companies ago) of mine put in a directive that people in IT Support must not, under any circumstances, discuss anything other than work while at their desks. This went for helpdesk, second line support, admin etc.

      Even a comment about the weather (and we Brits kinda do that a lot) would get people told off because it wasn’t work.

      I’d already handed in my notice but a LOT of others followed me out from that – the last facebook post I saw from that ex boss was a rant about how he’s expected to run a department with no staff…

    2. HS Teacher*

      My sense of humor is my best asset, or so I’m told. There is NO WAY I could work at a place that didn’t allow my natural personality to shine. Of course, I’d have never made it through the interview there.

  20. Well...*

    We found it. The office those outspoken folks who hate “political correctness” have been warning us about for years. It has finally come to pass.

    1. QuinleyThorne*

      I know this is a joke*, but it does have me curious about the demographics of this office, because I can kinda see where that might play into a policy like this. But even if that was the case, you’d think it would’ve have been easier to discipline the main offenders instead of enacting such a rigid, company-wide policy. Going with this theory, adopting a policy like this also tells me that the offender probably isn’t someone super high up, because if it was I doubt they would’ve seen a need for the policy in the first place. My guess would be that the offenders are employees that they’ve deemed “irreplaceable” for one reason or another: seniority, nepotism, highly technical knowledge or industry expertise that would make filling the position difficult, or maybe just plain old inertia.

      *btw you’re fired

  21. MistOrMister*

    I would get fired from that place so fast!! I’m nota class clown by any means, but I throw out jokes and sarcastically,joking comments here and there, and don’t think I’d be able to stop myself. And dear lord above…someone went to HR concerned about a joke over taking forever to learn how to use the copier?? How is that something that should go to HR?!?! This is nuts! I guess it’s possible this could still be a great workplace, but I would feel so incredibly stifled. And frankly, someone going to HR over a completely innocent joke woukd make me worried that every little thing would turn into a huge to-do.

    Side note: copiers at my office all had signs saying to remove paperclips before using, as I guess people kept jamming the machine. Someone hand wrote an addition to one of these saying “or else it will explode and burn your eyebrows off”. I laughed to myself every single time I saw that. For YEARS I laughed at that thing! It is sad to think that sign would have been removed and someone chastised in OPs office.

    1. LavaLamp*

      I’d have taken a paperclip; glued googly eyes to it and made a Clippy joke myself.

      1. Sleepless*

        I put googly eyes on a couple of extremely expensive lab machines awhile back. It seemed like the thing to do. It made us all happy.

      2. A Person*

        If you watched ST: Discovery, I’m sure you enjoyed the patricidal Clippy episode. Yes?

    2. SnappinTerrapin*

      I copied the page out of the criminal code defining “illegal slot machine” to a vending machine that was notoriously unreliable.

      I worked for a law enforcement agency. Everybody got it.

  22. CatCat*

    It’s so bizarre to me. And the level of escalation involved is nuts. You were reported for this violation? You needed a talking to with HR on the room? What the what?

  23. Jam Today*

    I would probably start looking for a new job and either leave this one off my resume entirely if your tenure there is short enough or be very upfront with potential interviewers that there was an extreme cultural mismatch that was never made clear prior to starting work. Between not being allowed to be lighthearted at all, and the snitch culture, I would be crushed by depression and paranoia within a month.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I’d literally have to walk out immediately. No way can I manage that without just not speaking at all.

    2. B.Jellybean*

      I would start looking for a new job immediately, because you can now use your current better pay to negotiate for an even BETTER pay with new company, and I would ask lots of questions about office culture, how employees handle stress, etc….and once I had a better gig lined up (they are out there) I would start trolling . I’d walk in with clown shoes and a doctor’s note about my “incurable gout toes” or something and then explain that I medically need these and ask why they would think this is a joke? Then I’d squeak away down the hall in an offended huff.

  24. Keymaster of Gozer*

    That’s….really REALLY bizarre. One wonders if they’ve decided (wrongly) to avoid any and all offensive remarks by making literally anything that isn’t factual and about work verboten.

    OR someone high up got told they couldn’t make racist/sexist/homophobic etc ‘jokes’ at work anymore and retaliated by banning any humour at all.

    It’s not normal, no, and I’m seriously concerned that any HR department thinks that this is an effective way to run anything – if you treat people like emotionless machines then they start to break down just as much as any unmaintained machine does. I..literally couldn’t do a full time job where the merest slip of a funny comment gets me hauled up in front of HR – my coping mechanism for my psychiatric illness/disability is to make fun of them!

    I’d start looking elsewhere.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I work for a healthcare agency. Jokes are how many people deal. (Nurses are some of the funniest & most jaded people I know. An experienced nurse has seen it all & heard it all. And generally has a great comment.)

    2. Blue*

      Yep, that. All this speculation about it being intended to help disabled people somehow – no! Weird unwritten social rules and intense policing of speech is the cruellest thing you could do!

  25. S*

    My guess would be at some point they had a hostile work environment suit/issue, and decided to overcompensate by banning all humor instead of having to set the boundaries of what is appropriate behavior.

  26. drpuma*

    From things I’ve read elsewhere, my understanding is that the most important and culturally universal “job” jokes and humor have is to release tension. I am curious if this office has any other ways folks offgas tension, uncertainty, embarrassment, etc. Do you know yet what happens when folks mess up or minor mistakes happen? Or did you already find out (HR intervention)? No joking at all definitely sounds odd to me, but I think it could point to a functional work environment if folks are genuinely understanding and kind to each other and willing to cut each other slack in other ways. Without jokes, where does the normal human awkwardness go?

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Good point! God forbid they hire someone who’s a nervous laugher. One uncomfortable situation and everyone around them would be hauled into HR for possible joke-making.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I can be a nervous laugher.

        And when something is truly funny, my laugh is clear & loud. I’d be walked out inside of a week.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      I can be a nervous laugher.

      And when something is truly funny, my laugh is clear & loud. I’d be walked out inside of a week.

  27. Emily*

    It’s never too early to job search. It’ll probably take awhile to get an offer for something you’d want, anyway, and you can always decide to stay. Because maybe things are ok, but maybe this is the first part of the movie where things start being weird, and it culminates with cult rituals involving cannibalism.

  28. Xavier Desmond*

    This is definitely one of the weirdest AAM questions I’ve seen. I think it’s the juxtaposition of the unreasonableness of the rule with the reasonableness of how they are enforcing it that makes it so bizarre.

    1. Ray Gillette*

      This is what did it for me as well. This is definitely one where I hope the LW follow up next time Alison puts out a call for updates.

    2. Paris Geller*

      Right? It’s not the most *outrageous* (there have been too many bad workplaces and bosses for that), but it’s definitely one of the most bizarre. I think it’s because office humor is such an innocuous thing? Truly, what else unites us in the same way joking about copiers and other temperamental office equipment does?

  29. No Tribble At All*

    OP, can you discreetly check your coworkers for plugs? Or areas where people stand frequently, those might be wireless charging pads? I think you accidentally infiltrated a testing ground for androids. Humor is difficult for AIs to create, at least intentionally (neural nets are very good at absurdist humor), so they might have banned all jokes as a way of making their robots stay undercover longer.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      I’ve been playing Mass Effect 2, where there’s an AI who occasionally says alarming things in a deadpan voice, pauses, and follows up with “that was a joke.” I literally read the part of the letter where she said “for clarification, that was a joke” in EDI’s voice.

    1. generic_username*

      Haha, that line was so simple but made me laugh so hard because yeah, basically exactly how I felt

  30. Lora*

    Oh wow. Do you work at the Mint for the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork by any chance? Because I am pretty sure I know how this ends with Mavolio Bent and the Lavish family. You need to watch out for banshees at work, OP!

    I would also be fired before lunchtime at such a place.

    1. Nea*

      It’s not comfortable, but it’s doable. I have a lot of personal interests that are completely out of step with the people who are in my company, who are mostly into things that are of deep disinterest to me.

      And I just don’t talk much at the office.

      I’ve got social media, friends, clubs etc. out of office hours to let my hair down.

      1. Aquawoman*

        Would not be doable for me. I could not do that much of an overhaul of my personality, even without the ADHD but the ADHD makes it impossible.

      2. Tau*

        I’m very much an edited version of myself at work, with a lot of my hobbies, interests, etc. tucked away for later, but not being able to crack a joke when things are stressful would break me.

    2. mf*

      I would be afraid to interact with anyone at all. The walking on eggshells would be so exhausting. Allison mentioned that this kind of environment could have a negative impact in the long-term, but I actually think it could be way worse that she said. The lack of humor would be isolating, which is really, really bad for mental health!

  31. Nea*

    It’s odd. Nobody’s saying you have to like it, and the fact that someone actually reported you rather than pull you aside and say “Hey – you ought to know this” is unsettling.

    That said to directly answer the question – “Do I just resort to being a stone-faced, Serious Business Lady while in the office and accept this insane quirk of the job while reaping the benefits of my position?”

    Yes absolutely! I would in your shoes. It sounds like there are major benefits to be reaped here – experience, a notable company’s name on your resume, everyone seems supportive. Humor is an unusual thing to be verboten – I wonder if there’s someone high up who doesn’t read sarcasm or hyperbole well and just decided to outlaw it – but there are plenty of offices where there are things on the “NEVER talk about” list. Unless this policy makes you actively unhappy day-to-day I think the career benefits far outweigh the emotional ones.

    1. twocents*

      This tbh. Considering some of the batshit stuff I’ve put up with at work places over the years that didn’t offer me more that a minimum wage paycheck in return, I could absolutely tolerate a workplace where the only bad thing about it is that it’s humorless.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      I think there’s a big difference between “never talk about (insert topic)” & never make a joke. It’s like telling someone never to smile at work or not to use compound sentences or contractions. Some people can do it, but for many people it’s just a normal part of how they communicate.

  32. LC*

    I’m rarely funny on purpose, but I’ve definitely been known to make people laugh out loud at something that I did not intend to be humorous in any way. (Not that they’re inappropriate things to laugh about, it’s just not usually an intentional joke.)

    What happens if someone is funny on accident? What if someone finds completely mundane things hilarious? Who gets reported to HR then?

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      Yeah, I’ve noticed that I often end up laughing in conversations with people, especially people I get along with well, without there being a real joke at all…

      Person A: Well, we got that llama groomed, even though it was green with purple stripes!
      Person B: And it didn’t rain this time! [referencing a recent event where it did rain and messed up some plans]
      *both laugh*

      Come to think of it, finding mundane things hilarious describes me pretty well…

  33. Amber Rose*

    I’m getting uncomfortable 1984 vibes. “Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

    Will you get a talking to for laughing next? Or reading something humorous during lunch?

    I mean, keep an eye on it, don’t just quit on the spot, but maybe… send out some feelers for other positions. And if/when you leave, please comment about this on Glassdoor! You’ll be doing some favors.

    1. Sharrbe*

      I can just imagine two employees, in a moment of weakness, reflexively exchange quick jokes one afternoon at the water cooler. They suddenly grow horrified at the crime they both committed. Do they agree to keep their joke a secret and hope no one heard? Can they REALLY trust the other person to not turn them in? Do they just go to HR together and come clean? This is just way to0 (blanked) up for a job.

      1. Wintermute*

        That’s what struck me here, the fact they didn’t warn her they went screaming to HR immediately for a reprimand. I would feel kind of like I was living under some repressive regime where I didn’t know who around me was reporting my every movement and word behind my back. It sounds mentally exhausting to have to keep your guard up that high for fear any stray comment, facial expression, note of ‘misbehavior’ will be swiftly reported to the Secret HR, every time something on my desk moved I would wonder if someone was searching my desk looking for evidence of subversion, and wondering if they left something out of place just to let me know they know. I just couldn’t cope.

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          The whole thing sounds like an episode of the Twilight Zone. It would actually be a great premise for a Twilight Zone episode.

          As a premise for a real life workplace, it sucks beyond belief.

    2. Le Sigh*

      There is a part of me that read this and wondered if it was one of those fake letters meant to be like, “see! this is what happens when PC culture runs amok.” Not that weird offices don’t exist, this is just so…extreme?

  34. Troutwaxer*

    The boss is still trying to figure out “I told you a time-travel joke and you didn’t like it.”

    1. WhatThe*

      Haha yes! I went to Catholic school and we had to pay a nickel to “the missions” if we yawned or sneezed.

    2. Despachito*

      Or like the fairy tale about a kingdom with a sad princess where the King executed anyone who smiled/told a joke or, God forbid, laughed aloud.

  35. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I can feel my shoulders tighten up because of this company’s stance on humor at work. The OP’s comment wouldn’t make most people even blink, let alone call HR. And knowing I could get a write-up for making a remark like that would put me on constant Red Alert, worried that anything other than work-related comments or basic platitudes would get me on a PIP. I can’t see how that environment is good for even reserved folks.

    OP, this is not on you. Your employer is distinctly odd.

  36. Jenna Webster*

    I absolutely agree that this is odd, and know that I am also odd because I would love this environment so very much.

  37. Polly Sprocket*

    SO weird, and reminds me of a bookstore I worked at, where staff were told we couldn’t chat with each other on our shift, regardless of how busy or not-busy it was. LW, *please* send an update if you decide to stick it out awhile longer! I will be really curious to hear how it’s going.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      So you couldnt talk with your coworkers about anything but work? How far did it go? If you were on break could you chat or was it just on the floor where customers could see/hear? How did they enforce it?

      I worked retail from high school throughout college (about 10 years all together) and I could not do this.

      1. Polly Sprocket*

        We could chat on break, but weren’t supposed to talk about anything non-work related on the floor. But that included even if there were zero customers around, or one or two people browsing in the next room. Early on while I was there, there were definitely times when we talked to each other too much with customers around, but changing the policy to “don’t talk to each other on the floor, ever” felt like way too much of an overcorrection and sucked a lot of the warmth out of working there.

        My memory is that they enforced it with a couple verbal warnings and escalated from there – the owner’s office had a window that looked out onto the floor so she could see if you were breaking the rule (and we were all scared of her so didn’t want to push it).

    2. kicking-k*

      Long ago, I had a job where we were not supposed to chat with coworkers either, not supposed to be seen reading at our desks or in the cafeteria even during lunch break, and incidentally had to clock out every time we went to the bathroom.

      I was 18 and a temp. Which was probably just as well.

      1. Liz*

        This reminds me a bit of my first job out of college. It was a family run company at the time (since sold and owned by a larger conglomerate), and published an industry directory. We had the choice of working either from 8-4 or 9-5. I chose 8-4. Every day, twice in the morning, twice at night, over the PA system you would hear “it is now 8 o’clock, it is now 9 o’clock” if you were not in your seat, at your desk, you were late. no exceptions. You also couldn’t leave until the PA system said “it is now 4 o’clock” etc. I kid you not. So at about 4:50, there woudl be a mad rush to the ladies room as you had to be IN your seat when you were given permission to leave. No one had a phone on their desk except for the managers, and even when doing filing, of which there was a lot of, you were not allowed to speak to anyone around you.

        I lasted all of 6 months and had it not been my first job ever out of school, i probably would have left sooner. But I thought it would look bad, when in fact, i got another so quickly, i probably could have left it off my resume altogether had i done so.

  38. pretzelgirl*

    I know AAM tends to get some strange letters but this one is just strange. I could never work here, ever. I would either be fired or miserable. Also I cannot imagine policing this as a manager or HR in general. What a nightmare. It honestly has me stumped.

  39. KHB*

    I know you said you’re not comfortable asking around for others’ feelings about the policy, but you should be able to go to your boss and say, “I’m wondering if we can talk more about the no-humor policy, which seems really unusual to me. I’m happy to abide by it to the best of my ability, but I wonder if you can tell me anything about why we do things this way?” Unless this office is really dysfunctional (which you said it isn’t, apart from this), that shouldn’t be out of line to ask.

    I’m guessing (like a lot of people here) that this is indeed an overcorrection for somebody who was making aggressively inappropriate jokes (and maybe was trying to pull some stunt like complaining “Why can the Black people make jokes about race but I can’t?”)

    1. LC*

      I agree, I think it’d be worthwhile to ask for clarification. Where’s the line? Can you talk about something funny without it actually being funny (i.e. a movie you saw over the weekend)? Can you express amusement, as long as it’s not a joke? What happens if you accidentally laugh? What happens if someone else accidentally finds you funny? Or is it just that you can’t intentionally make jokes?

      Honestly, I’d be terrified to say anything, or really even interact much. I’m hardly a big joker and I’m not particularly funny, but I enjoy amusing conversations and sometimes I find things funny that not necessarily everyone does.

      1. KHB*

        Agreed. I’m hardly a comedian, but the world is often absurd, and my natural reaction to absurdities is to point them out and laugh about them. I don’t know how I’d manage under this policy.

  40. Hahaha*

    Gosh, this sounds like somehting a Cartoon Vilain Boss would do, to forbid humour in the workplace

    1. kicking-k*

      It happened in the UK kids’ comic “The Beano”. I think it was in the 2019 annual. The mayor is a Bad Boss.

  41. AndersonDarling*

    The more I think about it, I think I could habituate to this environment. Honestly, most jokes I make are to soften conversations I have with men, so I don’t come off as cold/too serious/b***hy. It’s ingrained at this point, like I’m not allowed to have a serious conversation.
    There can still be chats about co-worker’s interests, what they did over the weekend. It’s just that all conversations are honest.
    It would have definitely helped if HR could have explained why the culture is that way. Did it grow naturally, or was it something someone decided for a reason?

    1. Meep*

      Yeah, I hate to say it, but my first thought was the men in the office are too sensitive to a woman making a joke, and her original assumption that her joke had been viewed as “sexist” hadn’t been far off. Only in the other direction. I have had many male friends that I have also worked with but as soon as I exert any authority over them it is game over. Sometimes, it can be as simple as asking them politely to do some of them for the more sensitive ones.

  42. ElleKay*

    Depending on your rapport with your boss, I would ask if they can tell you where this policy came from since it’s “different than anything I’ve previously encountered and want to me sure I’m properly understanding the implications”

    My first guess is that someone seriously F*cked up in the past. Like, serial sexual harassment being passed off as “just joking, guys- come on!” level and this is a strong (over)reaction.

    Having context might give you the rationale behind this. And help figure out if it’s something you can stick with.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Second on this being a case of “You weren’t here in Bob’s day, but he’s the reason there are 37 pages on things you can’t do with post-its in the employee manual.”

  43. Holy Carp*

    Two thoughts:
    1. Is it possible that there was some sort of huge legal issue in the company’s past that was a result of inappropriate joking/pranking, and this is the extreme “fix” for that? I’d be tempted to go ask someone in HR (politely) the reason for the policy. Is the policy spelled out in an employee handbook BTW?
    2. A small part of me thinks “cult”, because this is a SUPER controlling rule.

    1. KELLS*

      I’m wondering if maybe less of a legal issue and more of a medical issue?

      If there are employees that for some medical reason can’t cope with jokes or sarcasm, an accommodation might be that they are not to joke at all to avoid a conflict or misunderstanding.

      If you told someone that couldn’t understand sarcasm that it might take you years to grab their papers for them… that would not be well received.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I’m honestly curious if that falls under “reasonable accommodation.” It seems extreme to me. Especially if everyone has to follow it all the time.

      2. quill*

        But expecting no jokes at all times, and never DOCUMENTING this policy for the new hires is bizarre if it’s an attempt at accomodation.

        A reasonable attempt at accomodation is “Don’t talk about birds where Phil can hear.” Not “wait until new hire mentions feeding pigeons and then use HR to chastize them because they should have noticed that nobody in the office (on their first day) talks about birds so it must be an official policy not to.” Not telling people ahead of time rather defeats the purpose of making things easier for whoever the policy is meant to convenience.

        Based on my first day at current job we could easily have a policy about not talking about the state of Florida, or not using rhetorical statements – I wouldn’t know.

      3. The Wall Of Creativity*

        Yeah. Maybe there’s someone there who bursts his banks if he laughs too much. Incontinence pants are expensive. Better to just play safe and not make him laugh.

        What OP needs to do is test out this theory by bringing in a cake on her birthday, accidentally tripping over and landing face first in the cake. Then see what happens when everybody laughs.

  44. Morticia*

    Is this office in Nightvale? Because otherwise I can’t imagine this culture, and no one warning you about it before you accepted the job. Honestly, I think if my boss and HR came at me to tell me that jokes were not permitted I’d be unable to stop myself from asking if they were joking.

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      I feel like this office would be more likely to be in Desert Bluffs than Nightvale.

      Something about the no sense of humor just feels like it would be entirely appropriate and expected of Strex Corp. “Look Inside You. Strex. Hunt Your Laughter. Strex. Go To Sleep. Strex. Believe In A Smiling But Humorless God. Strex.”

    2. Cooper*

      I’d expect this to be a letter sent to the Magnus Institute, frankly. Bizarre offices are right up that particular alley…

      1. quill*

        Oh, this is DEFINITELY one of the Stranger’s. Or the Lonely. OP, surviving an entity is based mostly on ignoring it until it choses another victim.

          1. quill*

            If someone comes in without a face, it’s the stranger.

            If it makes you slowly lose your will to be human, it’s the lonely.

          2. froodle*

            OP is going to be subjected to that weird TV show with the brick-selling and chicken-rubbing and glared at when the nervous giggling starts

  45. Falling Diphthong*

    OP, I suspect in a couple of years this will be the first of a little army of Wacky Flags.

    But as you say everything else is normal and pleasant and a positive career move for you, I think “plan to stay for a year, and get your light-hearted stuff outside of work” is a viable Plan A. Reassess at the 3 month mark.

    Future problems I would flag for you:
    • Becoming inured to a whole lotta weird and assuming no other patterns are possible.
    • Being that weird job applicant who focuses on one very narrow thing–“a culture where you can make copier jokes” is going to be hard to screen for in interviews at other places.

    1. Renata Ricotta*

      Luckily, I think it’s SUPER easy to screen for! You just make a mild and lighthearted comment in an interview (which I find hard NOT to do in normal conversation), and if your interviewers smile or make a lighthearted response like typical humans do, you’re golden.

  46. Whisperwendy*

    This reminds me of a friends office, where no one is allowed to speak above a whisper in the C-suite. Very bizzare.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, I worked somewhere for a while where no one was allowed to talk about anything non-work-related, and it was pretty awful. It was a fairly small open-plan office, so I understand why the boss didn’t want constant chatter, but you literally weren’t allowed to make any small talk or have any conversation that wasn’t directly related to what you were working on. The boss would ‘shush’ or reprimand anyone who did veer off-course, or anyone who just talked too much for her liking. It really did feel like a reprimand, too – it was like being at school and being told to work in silence.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        We actually have a manager who does not allow any talking except work related. I have no idea why she is allowed to be this way.

    2. SummerBreeze*

      Conversely, in an old office we were on the same side of the floor as the CEO, and since we were the comms team, we were instructed to always be talking so that when he walked by, he could see we were doing our jobs! (Ie, on the phone with media)

  47. Mmm*

    The red flag is that this offhand remark apparently warranted a personal conversation with the boss and HR. No heads up in advance from your boss? Seems like they’re the one that needs a talking to if they didn’t bring up a rule that is apparently such a big deal. Same for HR if this didn’t come up in orientation. That this is a serious rule, but is not talked about, is really weird. I’d wonder what else they aren’t telling you about. Personally I just don’t think I could be comfortable in that environment. I’d always be worried that dl etching would be misconstrued, and that’s assuming I’m not slipping up anyway.

    1. Simply the best*

      Honestly, the biggest red flag for me is that another co-worker that was not involved in the exchange felt the need to report this!

      Like (no offense to OP and her stand-up game) but what she said was barely a joke! I can’t imagine even holding that sentence in my head for longer than it took to hear it, let alone thinking I needed to report it to HR that somebody made a joke.

  48. Meep*

    Just a thought as a female engineer who has been called a secretary, librarian, receptionist, cleaning lady, errand girl, and all the other demeaning things in the book, maybe the person you spoke to has a history of making sexist jokes or had a sexual harassment claim against them and someone thought by some turn of events that you had found out about it and was making fun of them?

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I don’t understand where your coming from? Are you saying that the person that they spoke to had gotten in trouble for making sexual jokes and thought because she made an off-hand joke about the printer that the other person thought they were making fun of them? That doesn’t make sense because why would HR and the manager say that there was no humor allowed at work?

    2. Simply the best*

      … by saying I’ll get back to you in a couple years because I can’t figure out how this copier works?

      How do those two things remotely fit together?

    3. fhqwhgads*

      But the letter mentions she explicitly apologized for promoting that sort of bad stereotype and they told her it wasn’t about that at all, the problem was she made any joke in the first place. So she’s already been told it’s not something like this.

    4. Sandan Librarian*

      I understand the frustration with not having your education and experience recognized, but I’d really like to push back on the idea that being called a librarian (or any of the other job titles you listed, for that matter) is demeaning. I’m sorry you are insulted by being incorrectly identified as an engineer, but I am pretty deeply insulted that you think being mistaken for someone with my career (for which I earned a master’s degree while working as a medical receptionist) is demeaning.

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        I hear you. As an engineer myself, it’s not that those jobs are demeaning, it’s the assumption that all women only do those jobs. Sort of like if someone said “oh, of course you’re a librarian, it’s not like you could do anything else”. In fact the comments that call women one of these as if they’re a bad thing are denigrating those positions themselves, and I join you in the outrage about them. “Women’s” fields deserve just as much respect as any other field, and I hate the multifaceted BS society unloads on all of us in this entire conversation.

  49. Phony Genius*

    So what is the rule when something funny just “happens?” Like when a usually-wrong clock falls off of a wall and lands directly in a trash can? (Actual recent event.) Everybody has to hold their laughter? Merely noting the irony could be considered “humor.” If you deal with clients in any way, and they make a joke, what do you do? Can humor truly be “avoided?”

    1. SpicySpice*

      Obviously they’re all supposed to look away quickly in shame and horror, lest the humor accidentally enter their precious brain space.

    2. mf*

      Agree. What if someone says or does something unintentionally funny? I would want to ask HR or my manager directly: “Does this mean we’re not allowed to laugh?”

  50. Blackbird*

    Nooooo this is not normal. I work in a “formal” business realm (finance), in a conservative state, and we have SO much fun and make jokes all the time. It’s a way to let off stress and to build relationships. We stray between sarcasm, anecdotal humor, self-deprecating humor, and sometimes verging on off-color jokes with those we are 100% sure it won’t be offensive to. We joke with our clients on business luncheons, and our clients joke with us! I had a customer make a joke to me (a mid-30s reasonably attractive female) that it was very nice of me to bring the two pretty faces (my boss and coworker, men in their 60s) to lunch since Customer and I were doing all the heavy lifting and financial deep-dive. My soul would be crushed and I’d be on a PIP before lunch on my first day. If you can see, like Alison mentioned, that it might change your overall behaviors for the worse, I would 100% recommend starting to look for a new job.

  51. Greymalkin*

    Somehow I just got – and can’t shake – a vision of the office in the “Unhappy” song from “The Producers” movie.
    I don’t know how it would be possible to survive in this environment for more than a couple of months at most.

    1. OyHiOh*

      First thing that came to mind

      Followed by the Terry Pratchett reference to the Mint seen in a comment above.

      The commentariat here is kinda amazing.

  52. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    The title made me think it was a serious case of cultural barriers (for example, an Asian ESL coworker that doesn’t get sarcasm), but the heavy policing is a massive red flag. I’d polish my resume before being kicked out by the Seriousness Police.

    1. mf*

      If nothing else, the heavy policing points to bad management. You don’t fix a workplace problem by banning a normal part of human communication.

  53. JillianNicola*

    That someone even thought this is a good policy to have, and that everyone has just decided to go along with it, is beyond odd. People are commenting wondering how you’re supposed to relate to coworkers, but I wonder if relating to coworkers at all is also verboten?
    Also – and I realize the spectrum is wide and vast and varied – but as a neurodivergent myself, humor (including dark humor and sarcasm) are the ONLY ways I can effectively relate to others, especially if I don’t know them well! I definitely have jokes that fly over my head, but a policy like this would not make my life easier. It would be uncomfortable.

    1. anon and on and on*

      I mean, I can definitely see some poorly informed neurotypical going all “Autistic people don’t understand humor! We must save the poor things!” and making a rule like this.

  54. FundraiserNYC*

    The thing that stands out to me the most is the fact that you were reported to HR immediately for making an innocuous joke. The willingness and ease of reporting such non-issues to HR speaks volumes about the culture and your coworkers. This is apparently normal in your office?

    I would be jumping ship as fast as I could. For me personally, I would be so stressed policing every single word that came out of my mouth and worrying what the next trigger for an HR intervention would be.

  55. TPS reporter*

    Always Be Frowning

    Put that coffee down. Coffee is for frowners only.

    Third prize is you’re fired. You get the picture? You’re laughing now?

  56. BusyIzzy2*

    My mouth literally dropped the further on I read. This would NOT work for me haha. I absolutely use humor to get through my day and quite frankly it’s the only thing I have from going insane somedays! This is one of the weirdest policies I’ve seen on here but if you don’t think it points to a bigger issue and enjoy the work it could probably be fine! I just know I’d have such a hard time not occasionally cracking a joke or two…

  57. Ginger Baker*

    You say that the rest of the culture is good, but…can I point out you have only been there three weeks? That’s not a great deal of time to assess a work environment and with the context of SUPER WEIRD ANTI-HUMOR and extreme report-to-HR environment, I am 100% certain that other weirdness/dysfunction exists that you just haven’t uncovered yet.

    Personally, I would run ASAP. The longer you stay, the more you have to explain later why you left after “only” eight months. This level of behavior policing gives me the heebie-jeebies.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I was thinking the opposite. It’s just been three weeks, so the OP may not have experienced the nuances of the culture. Maybe no one can tell jokes, but there still may be laughter when Joe in Accounting tells the story of how his toddler threw his shoes out the car window on the way to Grandma’s house. Or it may be that the right side of the office is stuffy, but the left side of the office go to lunch every day and are silly people. Or maybe there is genuinely no humor, but people are friendly and chatty once they get to know you.
      I always feel like it takes 2 months to really settle in to a new job and get my footing. At that point the OP should know if they need to run.

  58. Jim's Brothers*

    Getting reported to HR for telling a harmless joke? Get. Out. I honestly kept waiting for the ball to drop and for your boss and HR to be pranking you.

    This makes me think of Jim’s brothers from The Office and their idea of a prank. Maybe those are the kinds of people you’re dealing with here – those are the only kinds of people I can think of who need to have their humor policed.

    I would consider asking your boss for more info. Just say, “Could you tell me more about the no humor policy? I’ve never worked at a place with this kind of policy and want to make sure I’m understanding it correctly.”

  59. Snow globe*

    Of all of the letters I’ve ever read at this site, this may be the most bizarre and perplexing. It’s like a dystopian novel where the robots have taken over and humor is banned. Not just banned, but HR will come talk to you for a self-deprecating comment that barely qualifies as “joke” (I’d call it hyperbole). Very, very strange.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      It’s super strange how all of this is being handled, but there’s a part of me that sort of understands how a self-deprecating comment from a new person who hasn’t yet built rapport with their colleagues could be misread as a lot more concerning than it was meant to be. Sometimes the difference between whether something works as a joke or is uncomfortable is as much about how we view the speaker as it is about their delivery.

  60. Forrest Rhodes*

    Holy ap-cray! I haven’t yet read all the comments, so someone may already have asked this, but:

    Are employees allowed to smile at each other? (That’s a mostly serious question.)

  61. Chassity*

    This gives off serious “Alice Madness Returns” vibes (it’s a PS3 video game). To quote the game: “A good worker is a live worker. Free to live – and work! A bad worker is a dead worker; and vice versa. Don’t be a bad worker; bad workers are slaves, and dead. Payday for good workers has been postponed indefinitely. Payday for bad workers is cancelled!” Please google and watch the game snippet.

  62. Olives*

    Look, it would already be terrible for me to work in an environment with no jokes. However, it’s more concerning to me that TWO people reported you for ONE small joke, and that they didn’t mention this during any of your interviews. This points to more than just a stuffy workplace and to an actually very negative culture and one where it is normalized to where they don’t see any issues. I would start looking for new jobs immediately, make a glassdoor review to protect future people, and probably get fired my first day (I’m a comedian in my free time so they would never hire me).

  63. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP, do you work for a funeral home?

    (sorry, that was a joke. I’ll just collect my things, you can send my last paycheck to my current address)

    1. Broomhilde*

      Word has it that funeral homes are actually funny places with funny employees when no customers are around. They have to stay sane somehow, you know?

      1. Retired(but not really)*

        My sister-in-law and brother-in-law are retired funeral directors. One of her anecdotes from when they were living upstairs in the funeral home with small daughters was opening the mini casket on display on her desk across from a bereaved family only to discover a beanie baby elephant. Of course the family was not amused but she had to deal with explaining the situation. Talk about stressful! However it is one of her favorite stories to laugh about later.

        1. wine dude*

          I had a gardening job at a mortuarywhen I was in high school. Their mini caskets proudly displayed the Good Housekeeping Seal. That always cracked me up. (OK, I’m fired.)

  64. velomont*

    Is it possible that they’re yanking your chain for a couple of weeks, and laughing their guts out when you’re not around?

    1. C*

      I mean that would also be Quite Odd. But somehow less odd than having a complete no humor policy. I have to say I almost want to believe this is an elaborate (and rather cruel) prank, because at least that would have an end date.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I could see it as a single test, to see how LW reacts to a bizarre, arcane, obscure rule that’s she’s only discovering she’s subject to ex post facto. Like before LW is in charge of the timeshare paperwork, HR wants to see how she’ll handle the tortuous learning process.

      But my money is still on all the building’s vents being closed and the fumes building up.

    3. Sleepless*

      I can’t decide what would be worse, a job where jokes were forbidden or where everybody participated in a mind-screw against the new person.

  65. Brett*

    I’m actually wondering if the workplace looks otherwise functional because it would cause self-selection for people who actually prefer the “no humor” policy. I would expect this to lead to a relatively narrow range of personality types who are all fairly compatible with each other. If the policy works for you, it ends up being a great workplace. If it doesn’t fit for you, you leave, even if the workplace is otherwise functional.

    1. Myrin*

      That’s actually where my mind went as well.
      The fact that both the boss and the HR rep used phrasing like “jokes/humour will not go over well” and that they “could be taken the wrong way” makes me think that… this is just an office full of humourless people.
      Which. It can’t be just that or else it would simply be like some commenters said above, where humour isn’t forbidden but where no one ever jokes around anyway, but I’m willing to bet that it’s at least a big factor. There must be something else at play for it to become an official – and yet not mentioned to a new hire? – and reportable policy but in re-reading the letter several times I’m honestly not getting the vibe that this is (solely) oppression from above.

  66. Everdene*

    I have an interview tomorrow and now I feel extra responsibility to make a small joke and see how people react because I could not work in this environment.

    As well as all the things people have mentioned about building rapport and excessive monitoring I wonder what happens when someone/something is unintentionally funny? Maybe an accidental pun or physical comedy*? Is the joke in the intent or the reaction?

    In my job we deal with many awful, distressing situations. We use humour, and sometimes very dark humour, to cope. It is possible to be kind, non discriminatory, professional and funny.

    *I’m thinking of something like measuring a space with the distance between your hands which is invariably useless and looks silly.

  67. DrSalty*

    This is so odd!! OP, can you ask your boss or a coworker about the origin of this policy and let us know??

  68. Coffee Cup*

    Wow, and here I was thinking the letter yesterday about the late training was the weirdest thing ever…

  69. ProdMgr*

    I would have to take a vow of silence to survive in this workplace. It sounds like my worst nightmare.

    I recently read a good book about workplace humor: Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life (and How Anyone Can Harness It. Even You.) by Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas. The authors do a really good job explaining the role of levity in workplace interactions.
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52578860-humor-seriously

  70. The spiegs*

    I briefly worked in a Very Serious Office (university fundraising, definitely not what I expected there) and it had a similar atmosphere that came down from the top and also included no idle talking/chatting. It was ok for the very top people to stop and chat/joke with each other but was very much NOT OK for regular staff. It was the quietest office I have ever worked in and it was bizarre. That said, most of the staff had been there for several years and apparently had made their peace with acting like robots in exchange for the benefits, work experience, etc.
    So for OP, I would say if you can deal with it and it’s a good career step it’s certainly possible to make it work for you for a couple of years then move on. But it’s totally not normal, especially the HR talk. This isn’t how humans function.

  71. JuniorB*

    I’d make outlandish statements but with a straight face. Think of Steven Wright’s musings like: “A lot of people are afraid of heights. Not me, I’m afraid of widths.”

    If anyone reports me, I’d claim, “they might think it’s funny, but I certainly don’t.”

    1. Massive Dynamic*

      Oh god. I’d absolutely lose it, Michael Scott-style, and be ITCHING day in and day out to land a That’s What She Said.

    2. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I came here to say the same. I’m not particularly jokey but I’d feel almost pushed to be jokey and I’d use all sorts of one liners that I understood as a joke.

  72. Jayne*

    I once worked in an office like this – absolutely no humour, ever, with a boss who was an absolute doppelganger for Nurse Ratched glaring at anybody who so much as thought about a giggle. It was such an oppressive, unnatural environment that I lasted one week. I wouldn’t go back to a place like that now if they quadrupuled the pay: LIFE IS TOO SHORT.

    1. Cendol*

      Lol! I cringed while I was reading this letter, thinking of all the terrible puns I’ve inflicted on my coworkers over the years. They would have frogmarched me out of this office within a week.

      OP, this is super weird and bound to get weirder.

  73. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    I … think this is a situation where I would TOTALLY lean into the anthropology “studying this strange and unique culture from within” mindset. Prime Directive says I can’t muck with their culture or let them know about mine, so I’ll go with it, and relay my observations to my companions every evening when I return to the real world. :P

    1. McMurdo*

      Me too. I’d never get hired, because my measure of success in interviews is “did I make them laugh”, but I’m so intrigued by this that I want to know literally everything about the office.

  74. Dumpster Fire*

    Maybe an epic prank is being played on OP: everyone there is actually hilarious and new hires are told (for the first month) that no humor is allowed AT ALL. If you make it through that first month, you’re let in on the gag and laughter ensues (and you get to prank the next newbie!)

  75. KnittyGritty*

    Here’s a slightly different viewpoint on a reason the OP’s office may be the way it is. I’ve actually had much this same thing happen when I started at my current job a few years ago. When I started, the office was very somber and quiet. No one laughed or made much noise at all. It was very weird, especially for a relatively small software development shop!

    Soon I found out the reason for the quiet. At the company summer party 6 months earlier, an employee died due to an accident. I didn’t pry into the circumstances, so I’m not entirely sure what happened but it was a direct result of something that happened at that party. So I was told to keep quiet in the office because everyone was still so sensitive. All socializing went on outside of the office. If an after-work happy hour was being planned, you couldn’t even talk out loud about it.

    It has slowly gotten better, but these folks needed grief counseling and not just for everyone to be completely stone-faced in the office.

    1. Expelliarmus*

      But then wouldn’t HR have just told OP “we’re in mourning at the moment” and not “jokes are not allowed here”?

      1. KnittyGritty*

        You would think, but not always. There was an actual HR person here when I started (and seemed to be a really decent person), but they never mentioned anything about what was going on in the office. Maybe if it were a bigger office/more people in HR though, someone would have thought to say something to new hires.

      2. KnittyGritty*</