Tackling a "Banter" Culture

Hi guys. I would appreciate any advice on ideas to implement across the board.  I have taken over a HR role and within a couple of weeks have identified an accepted "banter" culture and attitude by a few members that appears to be accepted behaviour.  Comments such as "is he or she a f...g retard or something?" are common" in the office and appear to be widely accepted by the staff and senior management.  Anything else appears to be seen as "soft".

As their new HR Manager, I would like to instil a culture of tolerance, kindness, inclusion and respect - full stop.  I am calling a management meeting to discuss this at the top as it is full culture change - does anyone else have experience with this at its extreme and ideas for drilling out such a major culture change across the organisation?

  • Have you discussed this with your CEO, what are their thoughts, do they agree with the need to change? You will be unlikely to get any traction on what, as you say, would be a major change across the org, without allies. I personally wouldn't look to do anything like calling a management meeting until I had done some of the groundwork, culture change won't work if it is viewed as an HR driven initiative
  • Angela

    I see this not as a full culture change, rather it is correcting irrefutably inappropriate behaviour.

    The message needs to come from the SMT that there is an expectation of respect that must be adhered to, with consequences if not. You could support this with workshops to get the message across.

    However, if the SMT still see it as too soft then you have a real problem.
  • I share Marks views that the best first step is an honest conversation with the CEO to get them onboard / understand their views. Build from top then expand alliances

    This might be helpful


  • Johanna

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    30 Jun, 2021 14:06

    This language would be completely unnacceptable where I work! With my line manager hat on (and after following advice others have given here) I'd suggest getting your line managers on board and say it's got to stop because it's highly inappropriate and offensive, not inclusive, not representing company values, could bring the company into disrepute etc. Talk to them as a group and ask them to communicate to their own teams, lead by example and squash it immediately if witnessed in future. I'd be embarrassed if members in my team were using these phrases - it's 2021!

  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    30 Jun, 2021 14:26

    In reply to Keith:

    Thanks, - I was going to reference that PM article myself.
  • Hi Angela, congratulations on your recent role and welcome to the communities. I totally get your point and the advice given here is excellent. Let's be clear - this is not acceptable, certainly not something to condone or ignore. However, there are a couple of things which crossed my mind when reading your post. There is no mention of complaints from colleagues nor incidents of colleagues expressing their disgust or dislike when faced with this behaviour. It might be that no-one feels able to express an opinion which contrasts the apparently laid back and inevitable acceptance. There is also the potential for this behaviour to be an intrinsic part of the sector your organisation belongs to. I'm thinking of places like car workshops or warehouses which might be male dominated and therefore this type of behaviour might be more common and accepted. Not saying it should be condoned and not trying to imply all male dominated working environments are a den of bad language and unacceptable behaviour, hopefully you get my drift.
    So I am slightly uneasy by your approach which may alienate you at this early stage of your role since it could be interpreted the issue lies with you rather than the organisation. Perhaps also worth considering the environment does not allow colleagues to express an opinion which might be perceived negatively and perhaps that is a route worth considering.
  • Hi Angela,

    I think you really need to find out whether there's any interest in changing this mindset because I think you'll get zero traction if it's a 'HR as fun police' reception which will undermine your credibility later unfortunately. If they do appreciate why this should be stamped out, then line managers will really have to get on board with shutting this kind of chat down and taking a real zero tolerance approach.

    Best of luck with it: it can't have been a pleasant discovery so soon into a new role.
  • Hi Angela

    I work as a HR Manager in construction and TOTALLY get what you are saying. It is also completely unacceptable, however, and the example you have given is not just 'bants' in my opinion.

    Good luck!


  • In reply to Lisa:

    Hi everyone, thank you all for your brilliant advice and Keith, great article. I have had confirmation today from the top of the organisation that I have their full support. Don't know if you have found this, but often find those who make the most noise have the most to hide. But I have a few things in motion that will bring everything to light and allow me to start making changes. It is a good support to have this community. Thank you again.
  • Hi Angela, it's good to see you are making progressing on getting the management and leadership team on board to make some changes that you can support. I wish you well.

    I'd say they and you, as a people professional, lead the culture rather than implement it and we set the tone of what get's people hired, rewarded, recognised or fired.

    I've worked in lots of different sectors and I've rarely heard offensive language like this in my ear shot. As others have said, and you've identified, it's not banter. Retard is a word from a bygone era that was offensive then and isn't a word I'd expect to hear at work.

    Many people like to put HR in the 'office police' category, that can be hard to avoid at times and we can't control what people think of us. We can control out actions and act with integrity, professionalism, kindness, respect and inclusiveness (all your words) and if that means people don't like me or my profession, I'm actually okay with that. It comes with the territory.
  • In reply to Sharon:

    In the NHS South West region, we have started an initiative where ED representative and ED champions are trained in anti-discriminatory practice and the EDRs are expected to be involved in all recruitment. There is always a question about EDI in the interviews where we look for examples of how someone has been an ally or championed EDI. One of the senior managers made a direct statement in a divisional forum saying 'if you do not support EDI, this is not the organisation for you'. While this isn't necessarily about addressing poor culture, it's about putting in place something that will ensure we hire people who share our values as an organisation.
  • Hi Angela, an organisation I work with came up with something quite useful for them which looked at behaviour on a continuum from clumsy through to inappropriate through to unacceptable. At the clumsy end were things like jokes which might not be funny, or were funny the first time but not on repeat, through to unacceptable behaviour such as racism . What I particularly liked was that they came up with it themselves but also had a continuum of responses, for example if someone does something clumsy then educate them, if they do something inappropriate educate and be clear on future expectations, and for unacceptable generally a formal process would start. It seems to really work for them.