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Identify, tackle and prevent inappropriate banter in the workplace

Following guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, we summarise how employers can take action to protect working relationships and the culture of your organisation. 

There is a growing focus on workplace banter, whether in a digital/remote-working or physical environment and its place in the organisation. In particular, with regards to how easily it can cross the line and verge towards the potential of  bullying and harassment. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has recently issued seven-step guidance on developing effective anti-harassment strategies as a response to the changing attitude towards acceptable behaviour in the workplace. Buzzacott’s HR Consultancy service provides a range of support to implement these measures within your organisation, helping you take measures to prevent conflict and discord before it has the opportunity to arise. 

A number of high-profile actions have been introduced to discourage inappropriate workplace behaviour; for example the ‘Me Too’ movement and the new SM&CR regulations issued by the FCA. Rebecca Hilsenrath (Chair of the EHRC) described their guidance as a message to employers to ‘step-up action against bad behaviour’.

The seven steps outlined are summarised as follows:

  • develop an effective anti-harassment policy
  • engage staff
  • assess and mitigate risks in the workplace
  • think about reporting systems
  • deliver training
  • know what to do when a complaint is made
  • know what to do if dealing with sexual harassment and third parties

A key message to be aware of is that banter may amount to unacceptable behaviour even if there is no malicious intent; it is how the message is received that determines whether it is considered harassment. Furthermore, the comment does not need to be directed at a particular individual to constitute harassment. For example, it may occur if an individual shares particular traits or is associated with someone with certain characteristics. It should be recognised that what may be acceptable to one team member, may not be acceptable to another. 

The CIPD gives caution that having a policy in place is not necessarily enough in itself, but rather forms a basis from which active measures can be taken, with these new guidelines providing further recommended steps for organisations to implement. In the recent CIPD survey Managing conflict in the modern workplace, 2020 results found that: 53% of employees who had experienced bullying or harassment in the past 3 years didn’t report the most recent incident, while 46% of employees agreed that their organisation had effective procedures for resolving interpersonal conflict.

A large issue faced by organisations is the visibility and understanding of internal policies. All staff should be made aware of the organisation’s policy on banter and anti-harassment. Implementation of training can guide understanding and encourage staff at all levels to conduct themselves to show acceptable behaviour, enhancing the culture of the organisation and making it clear that the organisation has a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment. 

Taking action now could help you retain valuable employees, and prevent a destructive breakdown in workplace relationships and the overall dynamic and culture of your organisation. In addition, promoting an environment that’s free from bullying and harassment could save you from reputation damaging publicity and regulatory fines. 

Speak to an expert
Speak to an expert

Buzzacott’s HR Consultancy team works with clients to implement effective strategies tailored to each organisation’s requirements. This could entail developing policies and procedures, making them visible to your employees; offering a range of support options for employees to turn to; and providing senior team members with training and coaching in conflict resolution and being an effective role model. If you are interested in developing your approach or have any other HR related matters, please get in touch with the Buzzacott HR Consultancy team by completing the form below.

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