When in a work environment, it can be easy to rely on humor to create and maintain working relationships with your employees. While certain environments will permit humor more than others, it’s critical that a company’s leadership team has a firm handle on what is and what is not acceptable.

Most managers will agree: A diverse workplace can make it difficult to support an environment that doesn’t set boundaries for the type of appropriate humor. What one employee may label as a ‘mood lightening’ joke could spell tension for another team member across the room. Further, certain types of humor can cause others to feel uncomfortable. Sarcasm may work well for your personal life, but depending on how well others know and read you, it can cause miscommunications that could affect your authority and employees’ perceptions of you.

While the intent may not be malicious, all managers must be aware of how their words and actions affect the team. More than other employees, managers act as the model for the rest of the staff. Typically, how and when a manager uses humor during the workplace will dictate how his or her subordinates follow suit.

Humor: A Social Tool

Workplace humor is not something to avoid by any means. A general rule of thumb would be: don’t be afraid, be aware. There’s no need to feel like you are walking on eggshells around others as long as your attitude remains respectful and inclusive.

Jokes are a necessary social tool to navigate the climate of the office. It creates comfortability and trust between employees and their superiors. The nuance that needs to be adapted is to become more aware of the style of jokes and who is hearing them. Having a sense of caution and awareness can contribute to the overall atmosphere of the work environment.

This is especially pertinent to office leaders. Many may assume that managers take a more conservative approach, however, that’s just not the case. Christopher LeGrow, and associate professor of psychology at Marshall University, studied workplace humor and found jokes regarding weight, age, sexual orientation race and religion are some of the most commonly used; thus, one must avoid jokes or comments on these subjects.

It becomes easy to find a commonality between employees by not liking someone else in the work environment. However, these jokes or comments are not only inappropriate: They’re usually illegal.

As a leader, adapting a sense of humor can showcase a more humanist side to you–when done correctly. It’s also a trait that can be carried over into an promotion or profession. All leaders should keep in mind that like so many actions, the employees you manage observe and mimic you on many levels.