Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

When You're the Butt of the Joke.

Should you talk to your employees about the jokes they make about you or just let it go?

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: Irecently overheard some of my employees making jokes about me, andI don't think this was an isolated incident. It's not likeI can fire my entire staff for mocking me. I know businessisn't a popularity contest and I'm the "boss,"but I can't stop thinking about this incident. I want myemployees to like and respect me. Should I forget about this and goon, business as usual, or should I talk to them about it?

A: Alittle touchy are we? Well, we wouldn't suggest you forgetabout it, but certainly don't make a federal case of it,either. You don't want to turn what may be some harmless funinto a witch-hunt. All of us in positions of responsibility are thesubject of jokes and idle gossip from time to time. To put you alittle at ease: Consider the person you believe to be the mostinfluential person in the country, then imagine if that person hasever been the butt of jokes. If you're thinking of the sameperson we are, the answer is yes, he has been on the receiving end.And it's not just the current resident of the White House, butevery president who ever served the United States. Most of the timeit's merely been good fun to get a laugh--take someone'sweaknesses and exaggerate them.

We'd bet the same thing is happening at your company.You're the "boss," as you said, and therefore themost likely target. In our experience, jokes made at the expense ofequal or subordinate employees tend to be malicious ormean-spirited, while jokes aimed at the boss tend to be theemployees' way of blowing off a little steam.

However, as economists are famous for saying, you could have aproblem that requires your tactful intervention. You didn'tmention the nature of the jokes you overheard. If they were merelywater-cooler jokes aimed at you, forget it--you're being toosensitive. But if they really were not jokes, but serious attackson your character or management abilities, action is warranted.

Next Step
Think your managerial skills need some fine-tuning? Read First, Break All the Rules: What the World'sGreatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham andCurt Coffman.

Before you send your New Management packing, makesure you're the one with the problem.

The first action is always self-examination. Were the thingssaid about you true at any level? If so, it's your duty tocorrect your own behavior or decisions that adversely affect theworkgroup. As a manager, you have many perks and privileges; tworights you don't have are to bring personal problems to work orshow favoritism, at least not if you want a loyal, productivestaff.

If you've ruled out harmless joking but are unable to make aconnection between the comments and your behavior, you should talkto your employees. Not all of them, and not in a group, and notthose making the jokes. Hopefully you have some employees who avoidcomedy central and can be trusted to give you candid, honest andprivate feedback. Our suggestion would be to meet with them andtell them you're concerned that you may have said or donesomething to antagonize others. Ask whether there's anythingthey've noticed about you, not your employees, which couldcause disruption in the workplace. If you've chosen well, theywill give it to you straight and you can make corrections.

Rod Walsh and Dan Carrison are the founding partners ofSemper Fi Consulting in Sherman Oaks, California and the authorsof Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine CorpsWay.

The opinions expressed in this column are thoseof the author, not of All answers are intended tobe general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areasor circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consultingan appropriate expert, such as an attorney oraccountant.

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks