We’ve all met an office joker, they’re often quick with the one liners, they might pull the odd prank or two and they think that their banter is hilarious. If you look up the definition of banter you will actually find some very positive words, “playful”, “friendly” and “humorous” to name but three.

Banter in and out of the workplace is normal for many people and it can be positive. Banter can help people to feel relaxed and can create bonds between colleagues over a shared joke. In an environment where banter is appropriate staff can feel happy and have increased morale which then leads to improved engagement and productivity.

Unfortunately, though for lots of people the term banter has some quite negative connotations. A recent study by the Institute of Leadership & Management showed that banter needs to be treated by employers with the same degree of seriousness as harassment and bullying. The Banter: Just a bit of fun or crossing the line? report surveyed more than 1,000 people and found that 4% of respondents had actually quit a job because of negative banter. When you consider that many sources estimate the cost of replacing an employee to be in excess of £30,000 it quickly becomes apparent that what someone sees as a bit of fun can in reality be highly detrimental in various ways.

Tackling inappropriate banter can be difficult as people often don’t want to challenge colleagues and be seen as a party pooper or someone who doesn’t know how to take a joke. Interestingly, the ILM study looked at various demographics in relation to the affects of banter. The study concluded that women were twice as likely as men to have been negatively affected by workplace banter, whilst employees in the age bracket 31-40 years old were found to be most affected by banter and suffer poor mental health as a result. Younger employees were also adversely impacted by banter as they were often seen as an easy target and therefore avoided group settings in and out of the workplace.

So what can employers do to make sure that banter stays as just a bit of fun and doesn’t cross the line?

A fundamental basic is to have clear policies on bullying, harassment, equality and diversity and perhaps even a specific policy on banter and appropriate language. Ultimately, if taken to an extreme, banter can be discriminatory which could form the basis for a legal claim against the employer so you need to treat it seriously and be clear on what is acceptable.

An employer’s culture is also really important as it sets the tone for what is appropriate behaviour in the first place. By creating a positive, inclusive culture which uses suitable language you are establishing an inherent way for staff to conduct themselves, if behaviour is then in conflict with that culture it is more apparent and staff are more likely to have confidence in raising concerns.

Training is also crucial and gives staff an opportunity in a safe environment to discuss their understanding of banter and how something that can be fun for one person is insulting or even degrading for another. If you include this training in your induction of new staff then that also helps to set a standard for what is acceptable and makes it easier to challenge any issues that arise as clear expectations will have already been established.

If you have any questions about banter or the wider topics of bullying and harassment then give us a call at CUBE HR, we’ll be happy to advise you and we have policies and templates available to meet every HR need.

Why not also check out our blog on bullying and harassment for more information Bullying and Harassment – 3 Things You Need to Know

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