Open Enrollment Humor Gone Wrong: What I’ve Learned NOT To Do

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Early in my HR career, I was ‘that guy.’ I’d try to add a little irreverence and open enrollment humor into our boring benefits communications in an attempt to get employees to chuckle and pay attention. But the problem was, my ‘humor’ didn’t always go over so great.

Not all employees found my humor funny. Some even found it inappropriate for the context, or got confused since they’d never experienced an HR communication with some health insurance humor. The first time I did it, I ended up spending more time explaining myself in follow-up emails than I would have if I’d personally gone to each employee individually and told them directly what I wanted to say!

Yep. It was a complete failure.

But, I’m a little like Popeye. Remember the old cartoon character’s favorite saying, I yam what I yam? My personality is to want people to smile and laugh, so I didn’t give up on the idea of making my communications less boring and more fun.

Instead, I just tweaked my style a little. I made a point to stick to stuff that most people would find funny, and not so many people would find confusing or inappropriate. I’m still not perfect, but I’ve learned a few things that can help you make open enrollment funny (without going overboard):

1. Sarcasm is lost on most people.

The use of sarcasm can be super funny, but it shouldn’t be used in HR communications because it’s so hard to interpret for many people. Plus, the reason sarcasm is funny is because you’re usually saying the opposite of what you want, or what is true. You definitely don’t want that in writing in an HR communication!

2. The humor you use should be rated G to PG at most.

Have you seen any kid’s movies lately? They’re super funny for adults to watch, and safe for kids to see. That’s the sweet spot. Before you hit send, run the “kid” test: if a child heard or read this communication, would you feel it was appropriate? If so, you’re in the right ballpark.

3. Only make fun of an executive if you’re 100% sure they’d find it funny too.

Let’s just say, I have a ‘friend’ who did this, and apparently, some executives don’t find it funny when they’re the butt of a joke sent out to all employees! Okay, that ‘friend’ might have been me. And that executive still won’t talk to me.

So for the most part, let’s just say…don’t go there. Your open enrollment enrollment humor can do without a jab at your C-suite.

4. Profanity can be fun…but just, NO.

It seems silly to even have to point it out. But we currently live in a world where five different generations are coexisting in the workplace— so you can never be sure what’s going to offend or not. Just steer clear of potentially controversial stuff completely. Swear words. Social-issue humor you think will make you seem really edgy. All that stuff. One misplaced word can make totally lose you credibility with an entire part of your workforce.

5. It’s never funny to dump on someone’s beliefs or background.

This one should also go without saying, but your HR humor should avoid anything that has to do with race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, ability, health issues…the list goes on. You may think you’re building trust with your diverse workforce, but chances are, your joke’s not going to land.

If you’re wondering what IS safe territory, let me tell you: making a little self-deprecating fun of HR can go a long way! Our employees already see us as the police or as their Work Moms, so why not play to that a little? It’ll endear your employees to you because they’ll begin to view you as someone who ‘gets it’ – which is exactly what you want.

Read "The Ultimate Open Enrollment Communication Playbook" to get ready for an open enrollment unlike any other.

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