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Banter or Bullying?

Last week was Anti-Bullying Week.  At Keeping HR Simple, we have been avidly discussing what constitutes bullying in the workplace, what the consequences of workplace bullying are and what companies can do to combat bullying and harassment.

Defining Bullying

Bullying isn’t defined in law because it is not illegal but it does fall under harassment laws.  Our best definition is:

A persistent pattern of mistreatment from others in the workplace that causes either physical or emotional harm.

But what does that mean?  What one person as a victim might consider bullying, the perpetrator of the behavior may think of as “just banter”!

“It’s just banter” is not a defense or excuse for bad behaviour.

Most of us can recognise when banter is going too far and when it needs to stop; those that do cross the line could be considered as bullies.

Examples of bullying go way beyond a laugh and a joke and include spreading malicious rumours, ridiculing or demeaning someone and making threats or comments about job security without foundation.

This kind of behaviour can lead to all kinds of negative effects on individuals and ultimately, on your business.  Many victims of workplace bullying will simply resign when they can take no more but from our experience, we see that this kind of behaviour can lead to poor staff morale, absenteeism, reduced productivity and poor performance.

How to recognise bullying

Bullies often act away from other members of staff or behind closed doors and the victims will often feel that making a complaint makes them even more vulnerable to further bullying, so it can be difficult to recognise.

To encourage people to come forward, ensure you have an anti-bullying policy that clearly sets out the company’s views on bullying and the consequences if an employee is found to have bullied a colleague.  Set out what bullying is and how a member of staff should report it.

If your company has a clear zero tolerance policy and you can demonstrate that there will be no negative consequences for the complainant, you can create a culture where not only can victims come forward with confidence but other colleagues who suspect bullying can talk openly about it.

We offer a wealth of guidance to our clients on this subject, if you would like to discuss an anti-bullying policy for your company or are unsure how to deal with a recent bullying complaint you can get in touch for some guidance.

Ultimately though, just be mindful of what constitutes “banter” in your workplace.  Is everyone finding it funny?  Does one person go quiet when the “banter” starts?  What about what’s actually said?  If a stranger walked into your workplace, what would they think about the jokes, the cheeky comments or the language used?

The Simple Take is: A joke is only funny if both people laugh.  Banter is only banter if everyone is on the same page.  As a Manager or business owner, you must listen to bullying complaints with an open mind and take complaints seriously.

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Keeping HR Simple Limited is a company registered in England and Wales with company number 6981705. The registered address is c/o Moore Thompson, Bank Chambers, 27A Market Place, Market Deeping, Peterborough, Cambs, PE6 8EA