That's not funny: A guide to jokes and humor at work has permission to reproduce this article.My first job, 30 years ago, was my first after college. My boss was also named Michele. Our coworkers started to call us Big Michele or Little Michele to distinguish us (she was taller than I was), and, worse, Old Michele or Young Michele to make it easier to differentiate us.These classifications made me feel terrible, but I was only 20 years old, so I was not comfortable with making waves.Now, I'm probably the same age as the other Michele back then. Even though I am known for my sense of humor, and joke around, it would not be a good idea to refer to me as Old Michele.Workplace humor:When is humor appropriate for work? How can older workers know what jokes they can and cannot share with their younger colleagues? It's complicated.It is not common to find what we consider funny or appropriate. Jennifer Aaker, a Stanford University behavioral science professor and coauthor of Humor, Seriously, says that humor is not always easy to find.Aaker claims that humor is a barrier to employees using humor at work. She and her research team asked people their fears about crossing the line.Aaker points out that inappropriate or aggressive humor, such as teasing, can cause workplace conflicts by putting people in situations or with the wrong people.Also, see: We won't return to silence: Activision Blizzard employees walk out of toxic workplace cultureAs was revealed by the #MeToo movement at the beginning, work humor that is sexually explicit can be considered sexual harassment and could even be made illegal.There are many benefits to humor at workNaomi Bagdonas is a Stanford University lecturer, executive coach, and co-author of Aakers. She says that if you believe that humor can be a superpower, then we encourage you to recall what every Marvel movie teaches you: that great power can either be used for good, or for evil.However, Bagdonas does not mean you should not use humor at work. In fact, the exact opposite is true.There are many benefits to humor. Research has shown that people who have a sense for humor are more motivated and appreciated by their bosses. She explains that their teams are more creative and engaged. And laughter speeds up the journey to friendship.Aaker uses Anne Libera's theory of comedy as a guide for workers to understand the appropriate use of humor. Libera, the director of comedy studies at Chicago's Second City theater, believes comedy is made up truth, pain, and distance.Aaker says truth is the core of comedy. We can only laugh at the things we recognize. She also notes that truth mixed with pain and insufficient distance can make it seem insensitive, hurtful, or offensive.Emotional or physical pain can be different. Aaker says that sometimes, it can be therapeutic to find the humor in our pain.Distance refers to how far someone is from the humor. Are you focusing on a recent mistake at work? It may not be funny yet. Distance can be either temporal (too early to laugh), geographical, (whether something is locally or halfway around the globe) or psychological (relevance to our own experience). You can laugh at your mother, but I cannot make fun of her mother. Bagdonas jokes that Bagdonas is a saint.Bagdonas' advice is to not make jokes at work if you are unsure. Do not ask yourself, "Will this make me funny?" Ask yourself: How will it make others feel?She says that the goal is not to have a good time but to make everyone feel more comfortable. This also means not making fun of people of lower status.What's not to say?Bagdonas suggests that when in doubt, you should seek out a shared experience, or self-deprecation.You shouldn't make fun or ridicule someone because of their physical characteristics, their sexual orientation, or any other reason that you know could cause them pain. This type of derogatory humor will not make you friends at work.It doesn't just highlight divisions or push boundaries. It can further divide. Bagdonas explains that it can lead to prejudice and affect behavior of people with prejudiced views.This was precisely the type of humor that was used against me and my ex-boss. Although you may think Young Michele is a compliment, it made me feel that people didn't take me seriously.Check out this article: Why are women leaving the workforce at such a rapid rate? Here's what leaders can do to stop itWhat topics are not allowed to be discussed in office humor? Shirley Davis, president, SDS Global Enterprises in Tampa, Fla., is a human resource professional and helps businesses create inclusive workplace cultures.Davis says that the right kind of humor for work is one that's in good taste. It can be used to relieve stress and break tension and bring people closer.Imagine a younger colleague saying things like OK, boomer. Everyone laughs and it makes you feel uncomfortable. What then?They should not be allowed to make fun of someone. Davis says they should address the issue.Davis advises that you should speak directly with the person if you feel comfortable. Do this privately within 24 to 48 hours. Let them know how they felt about the comment. She suggests that if you are uncomfortable, report it to HR and the next-level leader.Davis warns employees against assuming that someone was trying to hurt them, particularly if it was only a once-off incident. She suggests that employees use such an instance as a learning moment.Davis suggests that you document the dates, times, and people to whom you believe you might have reported inappropriate humor to HR.Reporting an inappropriate joke complaintKia Roberts is the founder and principal at Triangle Investigations in New York City. It is enough to record a short audio or write in your Notes app on your phone. You can record what was said, the time and date, and how you felt as an employee.She notes that documentation makes these concerns more serious than a general complaint.If your HR representative does not respond to your complaint, you can complain to the boss of that person or, if you have one, to the General Counsels office.Davis suggests that complaining does not work.Depending on how severe the comment was, you will need to decide if it is something you can overcome.You might consider moving to another department or division, or looking for employment elsewhere.The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission should be notified.Ask for advice from an employment lawyer.Documentation is crucial and useful if you decide to file suit. Roberts points out that it is a dream come true for employment lawyers if an employee keeps detailed records of incidents.Similar: What does sexual harassment in the workplace cost over a lifetime? A new study estimates that it could cost up to $1.3millionJoking at work is a good idea. It's a good idea to try to create a fun workplace environment, provided everyone feels the same.Michele Wojo Wojciechowski, a Baltimore-based writer, is the author of Next Time I Move. Theyll Carry me Out in a Box.This article was reprinted with permission from, Inc. 2021 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc.Next Avenue has more: