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Banter: crossing the line

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We all enjoy a bit of banter from time to time. Sharing humour is a great way of getting to know each other at work, lightening the mood and boosting morale – but inappropriate jokes and remarks can be offensive and discriminatory and can leave people feeling hurt, humiliated and excluded.

There are no hard and fast rules about what is and isn’t acceptable banter. What people find acceptable can vary a lot, depending on things like their personality, their age, their life experience or their ethnic background – and it can also depend a lot on the context and the spirit in which the remarks were made.

While business psychologist Gordon Tinline, Managing Associate of Skill Boosters Live, believes that banter can be a positive thing, he stresses the need to exert caution in today’s diverse working environments.

No-one wants to go to work and feel that it’s a sterile working environment or that you have to be very guarded about everything you say or hypersensitive about what you say to every individual. But we do have to be careful about banter. It’s not good enough to justify banter that’s inappropriate with ‘that’s what we’ve always done’, or ‘most of my colleagues don’t have a problem with that’. If one or two of your colleagues have a problem with it, then it’s disrespectful and inappropriate and can become something that’s a broader problem for the organisation.

Under the Equality Act, employees can bring claims of discrimination where they believe they have been subjected to unwanted conduct, such as jokes and banter that relate to a protected characteristic, such as age, disability, or sexual orientation. However, it’s important to remember that banter that doesn’t relate to a protected characteristic – like jokes about a person’s weight or height, for example – can still lead to complaints of bullying and harassment.

The most effective way of preventing banter from becoming a problem is to create a working environment that’s built on respect. A key part of this is providing equality and diversity training for all staff and having a zero tolerance approach to bullying and harassment. Make sure banter doesn’t become a problem in your organisation with Banter in the workplace training from Skill Boosters.

September 19, 2016

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