Dealing with sarcastic employees isn't an easy task, especially if you don't want to hurt their feelings or become the brunt of their sometimes rude sense of humor. Some people use sarcasm as a way to impress others, so consistently modeling sincere communication might help them realize they don't need to put on a show around you and their co-workers. Since sarcasm is a popular communication style on TV sitcoms and big-screen movies, realizing that an employee might just be a victim of pop culture can help you deal with her annoying behavior.
An employee may exhibit sarcasm if she's starving for attention. Some workers don't get the recognition they deserve -- or feel like they deserve -- and respond with sarcasm. A sarcastic tone is difficult to overlook or ignore, so it usually gets noticed. If you think an employee is communicating with sarcasm, find ways to validate her work performance and include her in important meetings or discussions. As a manager or supervisor, you can provide constructive feedback to help her feel more self-assured. The more she realizes she doesn't have to use sarcastic language to be noticed, the less she'll see the need to express with a biting tongue.
Some employees don't know how to express humor without incorporating sarcasm into the discussion. Sarcasm is an edgy and indirect way to communicate funny thoughts or ideas, so she might think she's being humorous. As long as her humor isn't offensive or belittling, you might just want to tolerate it. According to the health and advice website Health Guidance, it's advisable to assess sarcastic remarks to determine if they're designed to be humorous or intentionally used to upset, belittle or hurt you or other employees. If the employee's sarcasm is aggressive or demeaning, it's best to calmly and politely let her know that the remarks are offensive to you or her co-workers.
Hiding True Feelings
Employees may use sarcasm to hide their true feelings. For some, sarcasm is an effective cover-up for concealing feelings of inadequacy or social anxiety. Since sarcasm is generally insincere, it can be used to camouflage anger, frustration, shortcomings and unhappiness. For example, an employee might say, "Leslie sure doesn't know what it's like to work long hours," to hide her own frustration with her work load and overwhelming work demands. When you sense an employee is hiding her true feelings, ask polite questions to see if you can determine the root of frustration. You might say, "Are you upset because you've had to work late three nights this week?" Addressing the real issue behind the sarcasm might help her open up and reveal her true feelings.
Lightening the Mood
If office communication is uncomfortable or tense, employees might use sarcasm to lighten the mood. Not all sarcasm is negative, and there may be times when it's appropriate, acceptable, and even beneficial. According to the scientific and behavioral website Smithsonian.com, studies have shown that exposure to sarcasm actually enhances creative problem-solving. Since sarcasm is a common form of expression, an employee might think her sarcastic tone is hip and trendy. Many workplace settings have an employee who plays the role of class clown, so she might also think her witty humor is appreciated for it's light-hearted nature. As long as an employee's sarcasm isn't mean or consistently directed toward a particular co-worker, consider accepting it as a form of comic relief to lighten the mood in the office.
As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.