Small Biz Bosses, Mend Your Ways on Bad Behaviour

Last Updated Dec 1, 2009 12:17 PM EST

As the party season kicks off and staff spend time together socially, probably with a drink or two, the risks of legal action over offensive behaviour at work will increase.

According to insurance company Hiscox, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are especially vulnerable because more often than not, they lack a formal code for behaviour.

Plus, managers may be less sensitive to banter and over-familiarity at work than their big business peers.

Its latest survey of 248 SMEs revealed:

  • Over two-thirds of SME bosses are unconcerned about the threat of legal action for offensive behaviour.
  • Half of them find it acceptable to display celebrity calendars or rate the relative attractiveness of colleagues.
  • Almost nine out of 10 bosses say staff need to be 'grown up' over office antics.
  • Eight out of 10 believe there is nothing wrong with edgy banter.
  • Two in five bosses believe it is not their role to regulate it.
  • Half of UK employees disagree and believe their boss should do more to rein in unacceptable behaviour.
  • More than half of the 1,000 workers surveyed claim they would consider legal action if office behaviour crossed the line.
The report's authors at Hiscox pointed out that many businesses will be holding Christmas parties at the office to save money. Two thirds of workers believe their colleagues behave worse if parties are held in the office, out of the public gaze.

Clearly, offensive behaviour of a sexist, sectarian or racist nature within a company is not only illegal, but can do serious damage for that company to compete in the market. How can it service outsiders if the organisation within is dysfunctional?

Based on advice from a CMI 2008 report on bullying (a type of misconduct seen at work by 15 per cent of the report's respondents), here's some tips on what you can do to protect yourself and your employees in the run up to Christmas:

  • If you don't have a formal policy that protects employees from behaviour they deem to be offensive, draft one.
  • Let everyone know you have drafted such a policy. If possible, include them in the draft process, so that they buy into the police and everyone is made aware of it, without you having to deliver an ultimatum out of the blue.
  • Do it in plenty of time. It's no good coming down on people who are acting inappropriately if they don't know it's against the rules -- you will appear heavy-handed and kill-joy to those who think offensive behaviour is acceptable.
  • Lead by example. Often bad behaviour springs from old-school managers pretending it's still 1973, who are copied by their employees. If managers put their own house in order, employees won't feel like this is just another Big Brother policy to spoil their fun at work.
  • If anyone is offended by office antics, do something about it and be seen to do so. Any attempt to sweep the issue under the carpet will be seen as complicity with the perpetrators.
(Pic: mrsmargret cc2.0)