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Peter Jones

Expert advice: Beware the banter in your business

Persistent banter can lead to a damaging and risky company culture, warns Peter Jones of the HR Dept Swindon and Wiltshire.

Banter is defined as an exchange of light, playful teasing, and is also often accompanied by a declaration of “only joking”.

However, as harmless as it sounds, it runs the risk of causing actual damage to a business and the people within it.

Banter is often used as a defence in employment tribunals concerning claims of discrimination, although it is rarely successful.

One person’s perception of banter can be very different to someone else’s, and a seemingly innocuous joke may actually cause offence.

It is not just those engaged in a conversation to consider, but anyone overhearing it. They might raise concerns if they find it to be offensive. Such situations need to be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, fear of shame or being called difficult or sensitive can prevent a person from speaking up about problematic banter. They may even go along with it to try and fit in, even if it makes them uncomfortable.

This is worrisome, as it allows banter to continue, often behind the scenes or in private chat groups.

Persistent banter can lead to a damaging and risky company culture, from accusations of bullying and harassment to discrimination; it’s a minefield for claims and can breakdown trust in a business.

It’s also not a healthy environment for employees, allowing other issues to manifest, such as low morale and increased absences.

What can employers do about banter?

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to stop banter altogether in the workplace, especially when a joke or two can ease stress and contribute to a fun workplace.

However, ensuring that employees have clear and open lines of communication with management to report their concerns is vital.

From there, an investigation may need to take place.

Managing banter with support from HR

The language used in a business matters. An anti-banter policy offers protection, but it’s leadership that can make a real difference day-to-day by setting an example.

An inclusive company culture is less likely to fuel problematic banter and can create a happier and more productive working environment.

Peter Jones runs the HR Dept in Swindon and Wiltshire www.hrdept.co.uk/offices/south-west/swindon

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