When Is It OK to Be Sarcastic at Work?

Sarcasm can be a great way to ease the tension at work ... unless you overdo it and land in hot water.

Richie Frieman
5-minute read

A recent article in Real Simple cited a scientific study, which showed that sarcastic people boost creativity in the office, and are therefore great to have around—I, for one, couldn’t agree more. After all, my column is based on using sarcasm as a way to combat unmannerly people who believe it’s either their way or the highway.

When you use sarcasm at work, it can do wonders for morale. However, it seems that some people don’t use sarcasm properly, which means it can backfire on them. Maybe their use of snark is too strong, used too often, or frankly just not that funny. Either way, before you break out your one liners, check out my three quick and dirty tips for being sarcastic in the office.

Tip #1: Balance

One of the biggest mishaps with being sarcastic is getting a reputation for being sarcastic all the time. You know, like it’s your thing.  However true it is that mastering the art of sarcasm is a sign of a good sense of humor, the problem arises when you don’t properly balance your sarcasm and seriousness. Take Greg, whose overuse of sarcasm has earned him a reputation around the office as a “smart ass.” Nice, right? He earned this label by constantly interjecting snarky sarcasm into every single meeting. In fact, his improper standing in the office got him pulled out of important meetings with clients because his boss feared that his sarcastic comments would cast a false shadow on the company’s image. Here is a perfect case of the lack of balance between sarcasm and seriousness.

If you can’t firmly understand the difference between always being sarcastic, and being sarcastic when needed, it can only do you in—both professionally and personally. Greg, for example, knew that being sarcastic would get some laughs (which it did), but people began to distrust his work ethic because they weren’t too sure if he could ever be serious. The best approach to sarcasm in the office is to make sure that you keep your sarcasm at bay when the real work has to be done. Now trust me, as a sarcastic person myself, it can be very hard not to throw a one-liner out when it’s literally delivered on a silver platter … but then again, a good joke only works when the audience will allow it. And knowing when and how to use sarcasm shows that you can be the “funny person” and also a serious professional at the same time. Otherwise, like in Greg’s case, you’ll just look like an obnoxious jerk.

Tip #2: Timing Is Key

Anyone who practices the art of comedy will tell you that timing is essential in making sure a joke hits the right mark. And like using sarcasm to get some laughs, timing could be the difference between getting respect from your peers and getting the cold shoulder at the water cooler.  Now, in Tip #1, I discussed how people can’t stop using sarcasm (like all the time) but in this tip, the point I’m stressing is this: if you fancy yourself the office comedian, you better be sure that it’s only when appropriate. See, it’s one thing to overdo it, but it’s another to rip out a one-liner at times when people aren't looking to be entertained. Not every situation is a chance to use sarcasm and even if people do find you funny, when you make a remark and no one is in the mood, they will be frustrated with your ignorance.

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