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Australian workplace banter: is it good or bad for business?

A survey conducted by the e-learning platform Preply asked more than 1,500 residents of the 50 largest metropolitan areas about their perceptions of banter in the workplace.

Preply found that banter is only effective when used within the proper context – particularly when it comes to banter in the workplace. Being in an office environment can include banter, but it has to remain appropriate and professional.

The arguments for banter:

Employees’ psychological safety is a critical component of innovation, and one might reasonably assume that building friendships with colleagues may be conducive to this state. Many workers derive pleasure from workplace banter, which can benefit organisations. Banter can lead to friendships with colleagues that contribute dramatically to employee satisfaction.

Of the Australians surveyed in the Preply study, 52% thought that banter at work was acceptable as long as it remained light-hearted and playful. 36% of people surveyed felt that banter could create better relationships at work, allowing people to connect and make friends during the working day – as long as it didn’t get in the way of productivity.

Another Institute of Leadership and Management survey illustrates that most workers perceive clear benefits from workplace ‘banter’. These included getting to know their colleagues better, building team spirit, and making the workplace more fun.

The arguments against it:

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The negative implications of ‘banter’ can be significant, in extreme cases even leading to individuals reporting it has adversely affected their confidence and mental health.

Of those surveyed in the Preply study, 44% felt that being offensive and disrespectful towards a colleague was unacceptable, highlighting that it can often go too far. And 15% of people thought that banter at work ran the risk of causing tension between employees, which could lead to two people finding it awkward to work together.

Similarly, a survey from the professional body CISI revealed a remarkable 97% said they have felt uncomfortable with “banter” at some point. Two-thirds said they contributed less in meetings because of banter, and a third found it so unsettling it made them look for another job.

Leading the CISI banter survey, Stella Chandler said: “Banter can bring barriers down in teams, but as soon as it crosses the line, barriers go up, which can have a damaging and long-lasting effect on teams and individuals.’

Amy Pritchett, Culture Director of Preply, says: “Humour in the workplace is essential — it can help boost morale and reduce stress. However, employees should be wary of making jokes that stray into offensive territory. People should think about how that joke would sound if said back to them and whether they would feel uncomfortable trying to justify the comments if questioned about them.

We surveyed over 1,500 residents of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in Australia. We asked them about the banter in their city, including who they enjoy bantering with, what they love about bantering, and topics people should avoid.

Our survey revealed the best benefits of banter are that it helps lighten a tense situation and make conversations more enjoyable. Banter is only effective when used within the proper context – particularly when it comes to banter in the workplace. Being in an office environment can include banter, but it has to remain appropriate and professional.”

5 tips for employers to ensure banter does not get out of hand:

1. Set the acceptable standard: Communicate your business’s standards as part of the culture, setting the tone and ensuring everyone knows what is acceptable and unacceptable.

2. Take steps to promote a positive, inclusive culture: Avoid banter getting out of hand, and start by setting the right tone in the workplace to encourage a safe, healthy and fair environment.

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3. Keep policies up to date and review them regularly: Policies such as equal opportunities, anti-harassment, and bullying should be updated and reviewed regularly.

4. Provide training on banter and harassment: Employers and managers must protect their employees and have regular training, including a full briefing on the responsibilities of line managers about bullying, harassment and discrimination.

5. Deal with any issues promptly: If you feel certain behaviours or banter could potentially upset someone, it is vitally important that you address the issue promptly – don’t wait for it to get out of hand or escalate to a formal grievance.

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