Why don’t we speak up about workplace banter when it has such a detrimental effect?

Focal Point recently partnered with professional body Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI) to survey over 700 people on the impact of banter at work and the results have been shocking

  • Over 97% of respondents said they had been negatively impacted by banter at work.
  • The impact includes 60% saying they put forward less ideas
  • 69% contributing less in meetings and 33% saying they looked for a new job

And critically the results also highlight the lack of confidence people have to “call banter out.” Less than a third said they would feel comfortable most or all of the time in asking people to stop, with only one in 10 able to do so “all of the time”.

Infographic on banter survey https://www.focalpointtraining.com/2022/08/banter-negatively-impacting-97-of-financial-services-professionals-while-hr-departments-have-an-image-problem-says-cisi-survey/

Why are people quietly shutting down, avoiding making a contribution or even leaving, rather than speaking up?

There are a number of reasons for this

  • None of us want to be labelled a killjoy, the one who can’t take a joke. Banter is so often dismissed as “just a bit of a laugh” and there is a genuine concern from many that their concern isn’t “big enough” to raise. But of course what happens when no one speaks up, is that such banter and inappropriate comments are first tolerated and then accepted and ultimately give others licence to behave in even more inappropriate ways …   It becomes the culture unless someone questions it.
  • Power imbalances also play a big part in people feeling able to say something. The Institute of Business Ethics conducted research on speaking up in their Ethics at Work survey.  Where 33% said they would not speak up because it might jeopardise their job.
  • And sadly people often feel nothing will happen as a result. Our survey also shows that people thought HR departments particularly would not take action.  Some of the feedback we received in relation to this included: “HR often make it worse”; “I’m not sure what HR actually do; I feel I am at risk of losing my job if I make a fuss.”; “A senior manager did not know where to draw the line, but you couldn’t do anything because he was friends with the HR Director”

There is a worrying link too to the impact on mental health with 22% who had been made to feel uncomfortable by banter feeling it had an impact on them speaking out to their line manager about their mental health.

The survey results leave us with no doubt that the lack of confidence to speak up about banter affects how people interact, their performance, the culture and their mental health

So what should we do?

One very simple step all organisations can take to start to change this for everyone, is to get teams together to talk about what is Ok and what isn’t. The moment we open up discussions, we start to raise awareness and start to bring clarity to where the “behavioural lines” are for everyone.

This discussion can also include agreeing how a team will alert each other when a line is being crossed… agreeing a word or phrase such as “that’s a yellow card” can be a simple low key way to nip something in the bud.

Managers have a vital role to play in creating and maintaining a culture where people feel able to speak up – and they can make a great start by simply asking their teams to think about these two steps.


Find out more about the NGO E-learning programme – Speak Up, Listen Up, Follow Up – which has a module specifically designed for managers