Banter or Bullying? Know the Difference…
With Sherif making an early exit for alleged “play fighting” that got out of control, how can you manage the banter in the office before it goes from harmless to harmful?
There is no doubt that an element of banter is good for any workplace; it can help reduce work-related stress levels, it can help employee morale, and it can in turn increase productivity.
Banter should be friendly, amusing and an exchange between staff (i.e. not one-way traffic). Bullying is repeated behaviour which can cause physical or psychological harm and create a range of perceptions, such as offensive, intimidating or humiliating.
If staff perceive banter in a negative way (as above) then this can lead to low morale, sickness, resignations, and possibly even claims against employers. It is worth reminding here that employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions or omissions of their employees.
Knowing how to combat this fine line is crucial, it is important to create an awareness of acceptable banter and a zero tolerance of anything above and beyond. Here are some ideas to help you:
- Have robust policies and procedures in place which address workplace conduct—you can give examples of what is and is not appropriate;
- Ensure these policies and procedures (including how to report bullying or harassing behaviour) are widely and easily accessible for all employees;
- Hold training programmes where employees are educated on what workplace banter looks like and how the line can easily be crossed;
- Good and bad banter can be addressed at the start of the employee cycle—at the induction, so employees are clear from the outset what the expected standard is;
- Ensure any unacceptable conduct or comments are addressed effectively and efficiently to show there is a zero-tolerance policy—‘it’s just banter’ is not an excuse. This will also help those subjected to unacceptable conduct or comments to come forward and report it.
Essentially, it is important to be able to show you as employer took all reasonable steps to implement measures to prevent actions such as bullying and that your employees are educated/trained on workplace banter. This will also reduce the likelihood of you as employer being held vicariously liable for the acts or omissions of your employees.
In conclusion, workplace banter can easily escalate to amount to workplace bullying, harassment, discrimination or victimisation (which are unlawful under the Equality Act), if matters are left unaddressed.
This can lead to claims, which can have a massive impact on the functioning of a business.