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The perils of boisterous banter

21st Sep 2007
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The Rugby Union World Cup 2007 is in full swing. And while many of us delight in the awe-inspiring spectacle of sporting endeavour, UK firms have been warned not to let the inevitable office sporting banter get out of hand.

"Employers need to be aware that discrimination grievances can arise if banter is taken too far," warns Guy Guinan, employment partner at law firm Halliwells.

My first reaction was a deep groan. It's depressing to think that the lively and highly enjoyable rugby banter between my Welsh colleague and I could be construed as offensive, but the fact is that if either of us harboured any tender sensibilities, then the other could easily find himself in deep trouble.

No one is suggesting a crack-down on lively sports discussion. Indeed, Halliwells points out that many firms successfully harness major sporting events to increase employee engagement. But how should HR communicate the need to reign in boisterous sports banter?

There is a line that most people recognise when it comes to banter of any kind, though the tightrope walk is distinctly more treacherous when dealing with issues of a nationalist nature, such as international sport.

However, not everyone's line is drawn in the same place, and there might always be one idiot who has no concept that a line even exists.

Circulating an official memo that overly nationalistic sporting banter will be punishable by drowning is unlikely to endear HR to its workforce. Healthy office banter is good for morale. Getting behind a national team taps into something deep in our psyches; something that stretches far back into the tribal mists of time. It's not something that HR could or should try to stifle.

"Personally I don't think HR departments should do anything about it," says HR consultant Mike Morrison. "Provided it's a conversation about sports teams and the debates are kept at that level, I think it can only be healthy. When the banter turns into bullying, then it's covered by other policies."

Meanwhile the rest of us can sit back and enjoy the rest of the Rugby World Cup; so long as the Welsh don't win...

Matt Henkes
Staff Writer


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Replies (3)

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By donr.xtra
25th Sep 2007 21:22

I might just have to eat that special pie, BUT having got so close for so many years I think the All Blacks just might get there.........and from the results thus far this article is more likely to be maybe an issue about which "other" country will win!!! And is this not an issue for the office manager rather than HR???? Cheers from NZ.

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By mike morrison
25th Sep 2007 15:03

Hi Matt - what do you mean...

Having grandparents from each of the four home nations, I am happy to support any and all of the home nations - it only becomes a problem when two are playing against each other....

Confused HR professional

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By jayseetoo
12th Oct 2007 13:24

I have only just read this thread and wonder what happened after New Zealand were defeated? I have just returned from a trip to NZ and there was a lot of national investment - pride and money - in this being the year for NZ.
It would be interesting to hear from Don - and any other readers with a vested interest -what it felt like in the workplace after the weekend. It might be less of an issue since rivals Australia also went out!

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