Careers Insight: Banter can be good for business

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A study has found that increased camaraderie among colleagues produces a stronger connection to one’s employer

I was fascinated to read some recent research about the importance and value of office banter and why, therefore, employers should encourage rather than discourage this playful dialogue.

We are all aware of the importance of job satisfaction and a strong team spirit and I recently wrote in Mortgage Strategy about the role of staff happiness in promoting engagement, motivation and, ultimately, greater productivity. However, ‘banter’ – defined officially as ‘the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks’ – may be deemed by some as time-wasting, disruptive office behaviour, even a low-level form of bullying. Banter can exclude certain employees, irritate others or embarrass or offend some colleagues. It can even veer close to harassment if you choose to look at it that way.

The research that I came across was titled A Meta-Analytic Review of Social Identification and Health in Organizational Contexts. It sounds academic and potentially dull but in fact was very straightforward and engaging. It found that increased camaraderie, or banter, with colleagues leads to a stronger connection to the company itself. Furthermore, it suggested that staff would have better health and happiness, and a lower chance of burnout, as a result.

The analysis looked at 58 past studies that included 19,000 people in 15 countries. Participants from different fields including health, sales and the military were quizzed about their work life, how they felt about their employer and co-workers, and other aspects linked to their physical and mental health. Those who claimed to have a strong relationship with their peers were also physically healthier and had greater psychological wellbeing.

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Niklas Steffens, co-author of the study, said: “We are less burnt out and have greater wellbeing when our team and our organisation provide us with a sense of belonging and community – when they give us a sense of ‘we-ness’.”

The authors claimed that, in individuals, ‘we-ness’ increases feelings of belonging, meaning and purpose, and one’s sense of control and agency.

‘Changing the world’

So where do we stand on this at Brightstar? As a starting point, our love of Steve Jobs’ ‘misfits’ quote* epitomises our passion for diversity, our championing of difference and our commitment to appointing those who ‘fit’ the culture rather than those who have a CV and skillset that ‘tick’ the job spec and criteria list alone.

We are a ‘hire for attitude and train for skill’ kind of culture, encouraged and initiated by our CEO, whose entrepreneurial spirit and ‘break the mould’ approach place an emphasis on getting the right people for the organisational culture and not first and foremost for the job role itself.

So how does this connect with our attitude to office banter? Our stance is that, if our team members are the ‘right’ people to start with, they will also have the right attitude towards work and colleagues, will respect each other and be great team players. Thus, if they feel comfortable and motivated to enter humorous exchange with their peers, they are enjoying positive working relationships with their colleagues and are more likely to work cohesively and successfully together, thus bringing greater success to the team and business.

Conversely, where there is no desire to engage with each other beyond the tasks at hand, surely there is a feeling that the environment is somewhat soulless and arid: an emotional desert. Is this good for motivation and productivity?

In summary, our experience is that, if people feel happy, positive and connected, their identification with our organisation is also positive. That must be good for business.

(*The late Apple boss famously said in a commercial: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels… The ones who see things differently… They change things, they push the human race forward.”)

Clare Jupp is director of people development at Brightstar Financial