In my opinion, an office without good banter is like a nightclub without alcohol and music…dull.
I came to Australia after working for a company in the UK where I got told off for saying the ‘F’ word in a good-humoured context in the office. In protest I started using the word ‘fluff’ when I needed to vent some fluffing frustration or to jokily tell a colleague to fluff off. It’s no surprise that banter was certainly not something that could be thrown around in that fluffing office. This isn’t typical of all companies but there is a growing number whose policies and procedures include sections about ‘inappropriate behaviour and verbal communication’ and dare I say perhaps over the top political correctness.
Why is this? Well perhaps because it seems that cases of bullying in the work place have risen. A new CareerBuilder survey found that the number of workers encountering bullies at the office is increasing. Some 35 percent of workers said they have felt bullied at work, up from 27 percent last year. I wonder how many times HR advisors are told ‘It was only a bit of banter!’?
I’ve found good banter can bring people closer together. Gentle teasing is a playground tactic you generally use on people you like. When done right, it’s a brilliant way to break the ice with new team members and bring them into the fold. It can also quickly lighten the mood in an office where pressures or frustrations may be getting to member of the team.
So when does office banter cross that line from funny to offensive? This is the grey area because what one person finds hilarious, another might find demoralising. You would hope that you have a good level of understanding of the people you sit with every day but people’s lives change; events happen outside of work that could mean you’ve just put your foot in it without even realising.
I like to think of myself as a pretty easy going person as I regard teasing from my fellow colleagues as affection rather than dislike (growing up with two older brothers I had to believe this was the case). Having said this, I’ve realised I am not immune to being left a little fluffing annoyed with some jokey comments even when they’re said without malice.
If you are lucky enough to work in a company that enjoys friendly banter between its staff and management then I think the key is using sensitivity, awareness and honesty should someone cross the line. Learning about your fellow co-workers is a good way of understanding personal limits as well as using some good old fashioned common sense…
Abigail Elwell – Senior Consultant