Friday 31 January 2020 5:54 am

DEBATE: Should some conversation topics or ‘banter’ be off-limits to keep workplaces inclusive?

Melanie Stancliffe is an employment partner at Cripps Pemberton Greenish.
Emma Revell
Emma Revell is head of communications at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Should certain conversation topics or ‘banter’ be off-limits to keep workplaces inclusive?

Melanie Stancliffe, employment partner at Cripps Pemberton Greenish, says YES.

There’s a fine line between catching up with your colleagues and inappropriate discussions. You have to remember that the office is a place of work, where nobody should think it acceptable to discriminate or be intolerant to others.

There is no such thing as “banter” in the workplace — people are there to work and be professional.

The office itself is an inherently different environment from being down the pub, whether with colleagues or friends. Behaviour should therefore create an inclusive culture, one where everybody can enjoy being part of the team and feels able to be themselves, without the risk of comments that exclude or bully them.

There is a time and a place to talk about your thoughts on things like politics, religion, or even your boss — and at your desk is definitely not that place. Bringing up certain topics may not only make your colleagues feel uncomfortable and cause tension, but could also influence their opinions of you and your ability to do your job.

Why would you want to do that?

Emma Revell, head of communications at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says NO.

This week, I have learnt that, as a woman, I am being excluded in the workplace by male colleagues talking about football, and such chats should be moderated or restricted in order to include me. Hold on while I delete my fantasy football team.

The Chartered Management Institute’s edict on curbing workplace banter completely misses the point. Water cooler conversations — whether about last night’s Love Island recoupling or Saturday’s terrible VAR decision — are the lifeblood of many workplaces.

They might not be necessary in open plan offices with woke attitudes, bright beanbags and no walls, but in larger workplaces with siloed team structures, exchanging words at the kettle generates team cohesion and creates shared experiences.

That’s before we get to the lunacy of pretending that women want football chat banned, as though gender dictates conversational preferences. Many people find the working week a grind — don’t make it worse, let the people talk.

Main image credit: Getty

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