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Banter or bullying?

Research undertaken by law firm Slater and Gordon revealed that ‘the majority of [workplace] bullying comes in the form of verbal abuse or intimidation [and…] is often dismissed as “banter” between colleagues’ (reported in Croner-i for Human Resources).

So, what is the difference between banter and bullying?

Banter, defined as ‘the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks’ is seen as a form of workplace bonding and humour.

Bullying, on the other hand, is defined as using ‘superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone)’ and deemed to be hurtful or offensive.

There’s a fine, fine line between the two and it is important for HR professionals to know how to determine which is which if they are to avoid their organisation facing office disputes, low staff morale or, at worst, a tribunal.

How can you spot the difference?

For an incident to be classed as banter, it is not enough for negative comments to be bounced between employees (as this could be classed as bullying) but one way to spot banter is to assess if all of the individuals involved are enjoying the interaction. If an individual is laughing at the remarks made about them then there is a high likelihood that they are not finding it offensive.

Also, is there just one person giving or receiving the criticism? If so, there is a chance that this could be bullying but, if everyone is getting an equal turn then this lends itself to camaraderie.

The context of the criticism is also important. For instance, there may be a higher likelihood of bullying if someone in a team has recently been promoted over their colleagues who may then feel jealousy.

Having regular conversations with staff can help to gauge if they are having any anxieties at work that could be a result of bullying.

It can also be beneficial to observe employees during team-building days to identify any signs of disharmony among the workforce.

How can Simply Personnel’s HR software help?

Should bullying be determined, there is the functionality available (in the In-depth Reporting module that is built-in to/included with the Personnel Manager module) to report on disciplinaries and grievances effectively.

Should you wish to hold a team-building day, the Training Manager module can take the hassle out of organising one by keeping a clear record of any of the expenses incurred and storing a step-by-step process of all the stages involved in running one.

You can also gather feedback from staff following a session, as to how they felt it went, to learn more about how the workforce feel about spending time together.