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Blog - What the Jeremy Vine “Man flu” comment can teach us about behaviour at work...

What the Jeremy Vine “Man flu” comment can teach us about behaviour at work...

Posted by Tracy Powley 07/01/16

Sick ManJust before Christmas, Jeremy Vine was reported under the BBC equality and diversity code, for using the phrase “Man Flu”.

Thankfully the BBC took the view that no code had been breached , that Jeremy was clearly making fun of himself and dismissed the complaint.

But the incident does highlight how tricky it can be in working environments for managers to identify when a line has been crossed... what is the difference between a bit of harmless banter and something less acceptable? Headlines about Man flu breaching equality codes muddy these waters still further and managers almost become “rabbits caught in headlights” – worried about being labelled a killjoy or part of the political correctness brigade... and therefore do nothing, when some kind of intervention is really needed.

What we need to do is to help Managers and team members work out where “the line” is – what is acceptable and what isn’t. And that means discussing it.

How we behave at work, the language we use, the way we interact with our colleagues can make all the difference between a co-operative respectful environment where people can have a laugh and thrive (no - they are not mutually exclusive!) and workplaces where people feel singled out or worn down by the banter and apparently “harmless” humour.

It is different for different environments of course, but there are some simple pointers which can help.

Jeremy using the phrase “Man flu” to mock himself is fine (as the BBC have verified) but if he had constantly been referring to a colleague’s susceptibility to “man flu” over a period of time,  thereby turning the “joke” into a bit of office folk lore – and probably making it very wearing and uncomfortable for the colleague, that becomes a different matter and a manager needs to nip it in the bud.

How we interact with each other on a day to day basis with work colleagues is fundamental to building a positive culture. Getting your team to discuss this amongst them can be a very powerful way to raise awareness and bring some clarity to an otherwise “grey” area.


If you would like some help in knowing how to start these discussions with your team or getting support for your team members and managers in working out where “the line” is , Call us on 01903 732 782 , email us or contact us.

You may also be interested in our blogs on  Managing workplace banter  and How much swearing is too much?

Tracy Powley
Tracy Powley

The way we behave towards each other in the workplace has a direct impact on individual wellbeing, team performance and organisational results. This belief has underpinned our work at Focal Point for over 20 years and has never been more relevant. We are privileged to work with a huge variety of organisations wanting to get workplace behaviour and culture right - and to tackle the inappropriate behaviour that may get in the way of this. Supported by our fantastic team of facilitators and coaches, we are able to make a real difference to peoples’ lives as well as organisational performance. Having worked in both large businesses at management level and in 2 start ups at director level, I am able to combine hands on experience of growing and managing teams - and the associated challenges in creating the right culture - with over 20 years in learning and development. I hold the Certificate in Training Practice and am a member of CIPD. When I am not supporting clients or developing the Focal Point business, you will find me in a calming yoga class...

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