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Blog - Managing Workplace Banter - Taking the Inappropriate Stuff Out

Managing Workplace Banter - Taking the Inappropriate Stuff Out

Posted by Tracy Powley 17/06/15




“When you take the inappropriate stuff out you get a better quality of joke!”


This was a comment from one client we worked with recently – for them an unexpected benefit to tackling the banter, which was becoming unacceptable in their workplace.

But it was no surprise to us to see “brushing off banter” appearing in the top 10 most costly HR mistakes in this month’s People Management Magazine.

Some may be surprised to see banter appearing amongst the more obvious listings, such as harassment and not following disciplinary procedures. Surely a bit of light hearted joking around is needed to ensure we all enjoy work? Surely having a laugh doesn’t always lead to inappropriate workplace behaviour?

But there are some real myths around what constitutes acceptable banter at work...

Does it mean you can never have a laugh and a joke?


Does it mean the thought police are going to tell us all what we can and can’t say?


But it does mean we should help to raise awareness around where some of the lines might be in our working environments and encourage all team members to think about the potential impact of their words and actions.

The example in the People management article is of an older worker being nicknamed Yoda. And we have countless similar examples gleaned from our appropriate workplace behaviour workshops. Most of us do not choose our nicknames and, for many, they are completely unwanted – but trying to find a way to ask people not to use them – especially once they have taken hold – can be very hard.

And this leads to another common misconception; that if people laugh along at the joke, which they are the butt of, it must be OK.

But put yourself in that situation for a moment – and think about how you would ask a colleague to stop the banter at your expense, without being dubbed a “killjoy.” Not easy. No wonder so many of us just go a long with it, masking our real discomfort.

The press is awash with articles on the importance of building inclusive working environments. Banter, which makes someone feel uncomfortable, is excluding.

Organisations need to take this issue seriously if they are going to do more than pay lip service to their “inclusive” values.

So do your team know where the line is?

Are your managers confident to step in and call a halt if the jokes sail a bit close to the wind?

Would they know how to deal with inappropriate behaviour?

Talk to us about how we can help your teams and managers agree where the lines are between acceptable and unacceptable humour and start to build a workplace which doesn’t leave itself open to costly grievances – and, more importantly, one which is truly inclusive. 

You might even get a better quality of joke!


For a confidential chat about what issues you may be facing around inappropriate workplace behaviour, call us on 01903 732 782, email us  or contact us about behaviour in the workplace.

Tracy Powley
Tracy Powley

Stella Chandler and I founded Focal Point on a shared belief that a training course run in isolation doesn't work. We passionately believe there must be support both before and after the training or coaching session itself for it to make a difference. When I am not facilitating sessions with clients or looking at ways to grow the Focal Point business, you will find me in a calming yoga class...

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