32% of employees in the UK have experienced bullying disguised as banter, here’s what risk managers need to know
UK businesses are mired in a culture of bullying disguised as banter, according to a new study into workplace behaviour.
The recently heightened awareness of quiet firing led law firm Irwin Mitchell to investigate how workers feel they are treated in the workplace.
The research found:
- 32% of the UK have experienced bullying disguised as banter
- 45-54 years olds are the most likely age group to have experienced this type of bullying
- Over 35% of women in the UK workplace have experienced bullying disguised as banter
Irwin Mitchell wants to raise awareness of the impact such bad behaviour can have on employees and the important measures risk managers and HR teams should put in place to safeguard their staff.
Deborah Casale, employment partner at Irwin Mitchell said: “Whilst some may consider banter to be light-hearted, making jokes at the expense of an employee or making inappropriate comments, can lead to staff feeling uncomfortable in the workplace and in the worst cases make them feel that they have no choice but to leave their position.
“If an employee is being made to feel they’re not wanted and resigns as a result of an employer’s behaviour, this could be considered “quiet firing.” This can form grounds for constructive dismissal if it breaches the implied term of trust and confidence in the employment relationship and the employee has more than two years of service.
“Unwanted conduct covers a wide range of behaviour”
”If the comments are discriminatory, two years of service are not required. Employees should be aware of their legal rights in these situations and should take advice at an early stage to protect their position – ideally before resigning. Likewise, employers should ensure that staff are properly trained as to what could constitute inappropriate behaviour.”
Jo Moseley, specialist employment lawyer at Irwin Mitchell adds, “Harassment of a worker occurs when a person engages in unwanted conduct which is related to one of the seven relevant protected characteristics (race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or belief, disability and age) and has the purpose or effect of:
- Violating the worker’s dignity or
- Creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that worker.
“Unwanted conduct covers a wide range of behaviour, including spoken or written words or abuse, imagery, graffiti, physical gestures, facial expressions, mimicry, jokes, pranks and other physical behaviour.
”The conduct may be blatant (for example, overt bullying), or more subtle (for example, ignoring or marginalising an employee). The word ‘unwanted’ means essentially the same as ‘unwelcome’ or ‘uninvited’. ‘Unwanted’ does not mean that someone must object to the conduct first. Some types of conduct will, self-evidently, be unwanted.
Certain industries are more widely affected by bullying in the workplace disguised as banter:
- 50% of people in the sports industry have experienced bullying disguised as banter
- Nearly half of all people working in fine art have experienced bullying disguised as banter
- Those who studied music/arts are most likely to experience bullying disguised as banter when they start work (53%)
- 38% of people working in accounting/finance have experienced bullying disguised as banter
- 39% of people working in UK hospitality have experienced bullying disguised as banter
- 38% of people working in UK retail have experienced bullying disguised as banter
What does this mean for risk managers?
These findings should be a wake-up call for those who manage their organisation’s business risks.
As well as being expensive and time-consuming to defend, discrimination claims can cause reputational damage whether the organisation wins or loses.
Employment tribunals are open to the public (and the press). The tribunal will consider all of the allegations, hear evidence from each side and scrutinise how the employer dealt with the employee’s allegations of bullying.
”Most people want to work in an environment that is friendly, inclusive and where colleagues feel able to be themselves”
It will also expect the employer to provide evidence that it has appropriate policies in place which explain how an employee can complain and how it will deal with their complaints, train staff about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour and deal with any incidents quickly and fairly.
Businesses that allow bullying to continue (whether or not it’s disguised as ‘banter’) will also find it harder to attract and retain staff.
Most people want to work in an environment that is friendly, inclusive and where colleagues feel able to be themselves without worrying about being judged for what they look like, represent or believe in.
How to manage the risks
To avoid these negative consequences, businesses need to realise that ‘banter’ needs to be tackled and addressed. Workplaces are not playgrounds and employers should ensure that their staﬀ are professional and treat their colleagues with respect and courtesy.
Employers can change behaviour even in workplaces where banter has been ignored in the past. But, making these sorts of changes will take time.
”Where appropriate employers should discipline staff who bully other members of staff”
Training is a good place to start – it should set out the standard of behaviour the employer expects all staff to meet and provide examples of the types of behaviour it wants to tackle.
Line managers should also lead by example and step in when they see inappropriate behaviour. And, where appropriate employers should discipline staff who bully other members of staff.