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I have a coworker in my department whose morbid "sense of humor" is inconsiderate to others in the office. I find it to be disrespectful and insensitive.

I don't want to get too specific with events, but he shares many traits with those people who post on Facebook with some fictitious disorder, and sometimes posts them on social media himself. Now even some of the junior-levels who look up to him started occasionally mimicking these expressions.

How should I handle this? Or should I just keep ignoring it and minding my own business?

Edit: I've heavily modified this question to obscure some specific details. The responses I received were quite helpful, thanks.

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    If they've been joking about suicide for 5 years then there is definitely something wrong with that person. – Rohan Mar 7 at 5:25
  • @newguy Maybe they're just the "attention seeker" person in the team? Looks like they need a course of Emotional intelligence management ASAP. – Sourav Ghosh Mar 7 at 5:38
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    As harsh as it might sound, are you absolutely certain your colleague isn't just exaggerating or being sarcastic? Rather than being serious, it's simply a morbid sense of humour that has unfortunately caught onto your other colleagues? Is this development in your coworker a recent thing, or has he always been like this? – user34587 Mar 7 at 8:18
  • @Kozaky "...tried to ignore it for over five years..." – Sourav Ghosh Mar 7 at 8:36
  • @SouravGhosh I wasn't sure if it had worsened recently or not. If I feared a colleague was genuinely suicidal, I'd have voiced concern sooner. – user34587 Mar 7 at 8:49
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Yes, you are right - this is not a good conversation (or even a monologue) to have in workplace on a regular basis. I'm not against an occasional joke, but when the "joke" part goes aside and things become a "regular" , it starts creating problem.

It's not only about the person them-self, it's about the work environment being filled with negative vibes. Ignoring it may be a short-term solution but will not carry out any positive outcome in long run. The best way to counter this is to talk.

Just open up a friendly conversation (maybe over a cup of coffee in the break-out lounge), saying: (emphasis intended)

Hey Jon Doe, there's something I like to talk to you about. We all have heard you mentioning something about how tough the life is, and I don't necessary disagree about the fact. However, the way you mention it, it does not do anything positive, you see. I, for one, feel that this brings more negativity into the folks around. Sure, I know, that's not your intent, but even unknowingly, these comments / statements come off as a negative thought-provoking idea. We never know who among us is actually suffering from some serious issues with their life (apart from office work) and we never know how your comments are going to affect them. We certainly don't want to be in a position where even by chance, we demoralize them even more by these comments and God forbid they take some wrong steps. So, I'd request you to re-consider the statements you make because we never know how it is going to affect others around you. Hope you get the point.

This should serve as a eye-opener for them, and there's a "subtle hint" that they might be in trouble in case something goes wrong ("negative influence"). I believe that should do the job and they should refrain from making those type of comments in public.

However, there is a (however lower) possibility that they would ignore this - in that case, I believe a chat (not a complain, yet) with the HR would be needed. There are already so much stress - you don't need someone to add to that by making negative and demoralizing comments. Sure, it may be "funny" and "humorous" to some, but if it affects even a few people in an adverse way - it's in everyone's best interest to stop this.


Just a personal note:

Sometimes back, in my team, I had a junior dev who occasionally used to say things (though not publicly, usually while in a code-review meeting where there's a flaw found or some other reviewer gave a -1 to the pull request for a minor change) which indicated the same. I had a close working relation with him and after couple of times hearing him, one day, I chose to reply him in a way he'd understand (spoiler: we both were GOT fans)

Death is so terribly final, while life is full of possibilities

Yes, we both laughed next, but somehow it affected him and gradually he stopped making those negative comments. Just saying. :)

  • @S.Johnson You're welcome. :) – Sourav Ghosh Mar 7 at 5:36
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Joking about suicide is a sign of suicidal behavior.

Someone obviously should do a risk assessment (you can find risk factors for these from numerous websites with a simple search) and if this person is deemed at risk then take steps to intervene and help. The first step to helping is usually a simple "are you ok?" question.

BUT

Who does this? That is the tricky part and only you can make that determination. Does it fall on you?

Obviously you don't want to ignore this (which is why you're here).

Also consider suicide humor has been popular amongst millenials (and those who follow their memes) so are you sure he isn't just trying to be funny?

  • I'm quite sure it started as an attempt at dark humor, but remained prevalent because of the attention that came from it. Now it just feels like it's not done to elicit a laugh as much as it is to evoke some kind of pity. He's been asked if he is okay by coworkers who haven't heard it before and he has varying responses that are indecipherable between genuine and not. Maybe I'll bring up a risk assessment to management- thanks for the suggestion. – user100989 Mar 7 at 5:33
  • @S.Johnson have you seen the documentary "the bridge"? Its about the golden gate bridge and the many suicides on it. One of the peoples story they follow is a man who jumped and they interview his friends/coworkers etc. He was joking about it for years and no one recognized it as a call for help. Not saying this is the same scenario as your friend but just something to be aware of. – solarflare Mar 11 at 0:20
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I would just have a word with him directly may be over a casual coffee/water break. You can just start by saying something like

Hey, I notice that you talk about death or wanting to embrace it. I was just worried and wanted to check if you are alright?

Depending on his response, you can stop there or you can continue something like:

I just feel little uncomfortable hearing about death so casually. I do not know to how to handle these conversations. Would it be okay if I request you to not mention it as often as you do?

Whether he agrees to your request or not, you have made your point clear and showed genuine concern for his health as well. Even if he is offended by this, he should at least now be clear that few members in the team uncomfortable.

If this does not stop, you should raise it to your manager and tell them that you tried to talk directly but it did not work and let your manager take next steps.

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