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How comments impact a culture

An individual’s experience was recently relayed to me.  She worked in a team where ‘informal’ Christmas awards were decided and handed out by the junior members of the team.  She and her line manager are the only two mothers in the team.  They were given the award as the people least likely to show up for a work evening out. I found this really disappointing.   This is an organisation that prides itself on its inclusive culture.  Am I being too sensitive, wasn’t it just a harmless bit of fun?

We talk on our programmes about the impact of the throwaway comments on an individual’s feeling of confidence, self-worth and being valued by an organisation.  A Dad who arrives after school drop-off (at 8:30 am) to the comment ‘half day again’ when he will be the last one in the office that night as his partner is on pick up.  The mum faced with the comment ‘oh you won’t be able to come to that meeting – it’s your day ‘off’’ when actually with notice she can flex her childcare or the meeting could be arranged for a different day.

In isolation, these comments can appear harmless, maybe ill-thought-out but not intended to be mean.  However, they can add up to a culture which isn’t inclusive of the person who has a different working arrangement or has responsibilities outside of work.  There have been plenty of reports in the press recently about toxic cultures that have been allowed to develop, where people turned a blind eye and accepted the status quo.

We all have a role to play in dealing with these and I believe we shouldn’t let them slide.  As individuals, we have a choice as to how we respond.  We can comment in the moment (often deploying humour to make a point helps) or if a witty repost escapes us, have a quiet word with a person after to explain the impact of the comments on us.  It isn’t just for ourselves we are doing this but for others in the team who may feel less able to speak up or paving the way for future employees in a similar situation.

If we have a leadership role in the team, we have a duty to address these matters.  Talk about team flexibility requirements in team meetings so build understanding.  Nip the comments in the bud if you hear them.  Ensure team events are also organised for times when everyone can attend.

The next time the team awards are given out I hope that with better understanding and appreciation the organisers can find a way of having fun which isn’t at the expense of being inclusive.

Clair Hodgson

EMEA Director

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