Jokes and “banter” in the workplace are by no means a bad thing. After all, getting to know the people around you can often bring people out of their shells, promote collaboration and even boost productivity. In fact, in a recent survey, 76% of men and 56% of women said that they regularly participate in workplace banter to get to know their colleagues better1.
However, as with just about anything, there is a fine balance between the positive and negative. In some cases, these jokes can go too far or have an underlying motive, and can be deemed as bullying. The banter may become repetitive, hurtful and intentional, or could involve a power imbalance that simply makes it unfair. The Chairman of an organisation might well just be teasing the new intern, but are they really going to say anything back?
And, due to the continued focus on gender inequality, workplace bullying and harassment has quite rightfully found itself under the microscope once again. The negative side-effects are undeniable at this point too, with poor morale, higher staff turnover and decreased productivity all common in workplaces that suffer from these issues.
Not only that, the financial damages are huge. A recent ACAS study has suggested that dealing with conflict and bullying cost the economy a staggering £18 billion through 20152, with figures largely expected to have risen since then.
Because of this, it’s no surprise then that many HR departments have turned towards workplace mediation.
Here at UK Mediation, workplace mediation cases involving allegations of harassment are one of the most common that we are asked to deal with. More often than not, the “quiet words”, facilitated meetings and disciplinary actions have already taken place, all to no avail.
And mediation works in these instances too. With a general success rate of 85-90% in finding an agreement3, it provides an efficient, cost-effective and future-focussed method of resolution.
Our aim throughout cases like these is to help the participant to develop some insight and awareness into how they act and how that might affect people around them. From there, we can then invite them to change that behaviour.
This process involves:
• Re-opening communication and talking through challenging conflict situations.
• “Re-experiencing” past situations to get their thoughts and feelings about difficult interactions.
• Identifying links between thoughts, emotion and behaviour, as well as how they relate to the consequences.
• Focusing on positive future behaviour – we are not there to blame, shame or accuse!
• Being empathic to the participant and their needs, and set achievable goals that are tailored toward them.
At the end of the day, workplace banter can be crucial in building a positive, fun and inclusive working environment. However, when it goes too far, mediation can use the above steps to get right to the root of the dispute, nipping it in the bud before it gets out of hand.
It is for this reason that mediation is considered one of the most effective methods of conflict resolution, especially in cases like this.
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‘Workplace banter undermining women’s mental health‘, HR Magazine, 2018.
‘Workplace bullying costs economy £18 billion, Acas claims‘, Business Reporter, 2015.
‘UK: Mediation: Success Or Failure?‘, Mondaq, 2017