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Blog - The problem with nicknames at work...

The problem with nicknames at work...

Posted by Stella Chandler 22/03/16

Unhappy ManAn interesting article in people management this month looks at nicknames, which could be discriminatory. No humour which relies on race, age, disability or gender as its basis should ever be acceptable at work. 

But what about nicknames in general? The article says they can be the sign of a healthy workplace, but in our experience the opposite is often true.

Think about nicknames you have had or known others to have...who chose them? Very rarely do we decide to call ourselves something else...nicknames are usually given to us by others “having a bit of a laugh” - often stemming from some joke or mishap at work.  

We uncover many such examples in our workshops exploring appropriate workplace behaviour...

In one company two Managers in the same dept were called Mark – one was on the large side and one was short with a very slight frame and they were dubbed by their colleagues Big Mark and Little Mark to differentiate them. 

As so often with these grey areas of humour, there was no real malice intended, but it made both the managers distinctly uncomfortable – constantly being reminded of their physical appearance which they were already quite self conscious about.

In another organisation a manager was given the name Miss Priss by her two team members – because they viewed her as more staid and straight laced than themselves. Of course any attempt to tackle this and say she found it uncomfortable would have merely underlined what the two girls already thought of her...“cant’ take a joke,” and “needs to loosen up”. So she said nothing.

And that’s often the problem with nicknames – once they stick, it is really hard to un-do them. And they don’t have to be overtly discriminatory to do damage – as these examples are testament to.

Of course there are a number of people who genuinely love their nicknames and are very happy with the associated banter.

The important thing is not to make an assumption who is happy and who isn’t. Managers have a key role to play here. They can check out with the person if they sense the nickname is unwanted or inappropriate and can lead the way by only using their real name – others will soon get the message and follow suit.         

You may also be interested in our blogs on when jokes go too far at work and banter in the workplace.

Stella Chandler
Stella Chandler

I thrive on seeing people do things they didn’t think they could do! I draw on my management and leadership experience from working in senior positions in the Metropolitan Police Service, running Focal Point since 2002 and working across all three sectors in the widest variety of environments. Because we rarely learn things first time, we believe it is vital to provide support before, during and after the events we run, in order to get the best from them. Time and time again people have told us how the chance to review their learning and to have their actions reinforced has really helped cement new ways of doing things. This is what has then made the difference that they and we are looking for. I am a fellow of the CIPD and when I am not working with clients I can be seen on the golf courses of Hampshire.

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