When banter becomes bullying

Workplace “banter” can have a positive effect on the workplace, promoting a relaxed environment, increasing morale, leading to improved productivity.

But a new study has shown that banter needs to be addressed by employers. The report surveyed more than 1,000 people and found evidence that employees have left a job because of what they perceive as negative banter.

The report also found that women are twice as likely as men to have been negatively affected by workplace banter, with one in 10 women citing it as a cause of mental health issues. And despite the recent heightened media awareness over inappropriate behaviour at work, women are still less likely to challenge inappropriate behaviour than their male colleagues, with 55% of women compared to 73% of men saying they would directly challenge banter.

Dos and don’ts guide for handling banter

It is important that employers recognise the serious impact that negative banter can have and that measures are put in place to set boundaries:

  • Examine policies – be proactive appreciate that negative banter leads to a loss of confidence and potentially resignations. Make sure that the policies set out the definition and sanctions for bullying and harassment and that they promote equality, diversity and inclusion.
  • Be mindful that any unwelcome comments at work aren’t ‘just a bit of banter’ – they can sometimes form the basis of a legal claim. If an employee has not experienced something as a joke, then the environment can soon feel hostile for that person.
  • Create a culture where people feel they can raise concerns.
  • Publicise policies and training. Almost three-quarters of people said they didn’t know if policies to protect employees from negative banter existed!

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