In addition to illustrating the spiralling costs of allegations of harassment and bullying (seven figure non-disclosure settlements and extensive damage to reputation), allegations by employees, and former employees, of Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group serve as an opportunity to explore the ambiguous nature of ‘banter’ at work.

On the one hand, Sir Philip Green is claiming that his behaviour was innocent banter and “there was never any intent to be offensive”. On the other hand, staff say “it’s not banter, it’s a climate of fear” and “’Banter suggests some kind of exchange or jocular language, but it isn’t”.

Repartee, joke, witty, funny, clever, sharp, humour

Light and jocular ‘banter’ can be the vital lifeblood of a team’s character and success. In these situations ‘banter’ can be seen to benefit productivity, collaborative working and efficiency; contributing to a happy, relaxed and productive working environment.

Joker, ridicule, prank, make fun of, humiliation, harassment, discrimination

At the same time, ‘banter’ at work can go badly wrong. A joke gone too far, comments just past that boundary, especially in an environment without an effective framework for dealing with concerns, can all too easily result in costly and destructive breakdown.

“I arrived at work, went to reception to sign in and saw that he had printed ‘poison dwarf’ against my name. I was so shocked, it was unmistakable, anyone coming into the building had to sign in so would see it immediately. This is just one example, texts, emails, jibes in front of other people, all in the name of banter.”

Consequently, it is always worth considering the nature of the ‘banter’ in your working environment and if there is a common understanding amongst the workforce in this respect.

“There are a lack of clear boundaries as to what behaviour is acceptable. My line manager is happy to share her own personal, and at times intimate, information with the team, but she informed me that my ‘banter’ is inappropriate. I personally do not use the term ‘banter’ and take the lead on the tone and content of office chat with my line manager from her.”

  • What is the nature of the ‘banter’ in your team / workplace?
  • Do senior management set the tone for what is acceptable / unacceptable ‘banter’?
  • Is there a common understanding amongst the workforce of what is appropriate / inappropriate ‘banter’?
  • What happens if the ‘banter’ goes wrong?


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