Laddish behaviour derived from sports banter?

The chief executive of the UK’s Chartered Management Institute (CMI), Ann Francke, has suggested live on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, that sports talk in offices can be “A gateway to more laddish behaviour and – if it just goes unchecked – it’s a signal of a more laddish culture”.

Her concerns are that less-sports-inclined co-workers can feel excluded and an excess of banter can lead to uncomfortable situations and discord in the workplace. The BBC reported she was concerned that sports banter can exclude women and lead to laddish behaviour such as chat about sexual conquests. “It’s very easy for it to escalate from VAR talk and chat to slapping each other on the back and talking about their conquests at the weekend,” she said.

Terrible idea

But sports journalist Jacqui Oatley thinks cracking down on sports chatter would be a “terrible idea”. “If you ban football chat or banter of any description, then all you’re going to do is alienate the people who actually want to communicate with each other,” she told the Today programme.  Former sports, gambling, charities and loneliness minister Tracey Crouch called the Chartered Management Institute’s advice “a load of nonsense”.

A BBC News website reader Tessie Oz commented, “So despite all the progress made over the past 5/10 years in Gender nuetrality (sic), should we assume if you’re a man, you will like sport, and if you are a woman you will enjoy programmes like Love Island. As a woman who loves sport and has never watched an episode of Love Island, I find this article completely sexist to both men and women and an insult to my intelligence.”

The bigger picture

Whatever one’s own views on this issue (the “conquests at the weekend” comment is of particular puzzlement to this writer as I am wondering in which decade this is was a common occurrence), there is a possibility that this discussion is rather missing the bigger picture.

Not all men are sports fans, not all women are sports-haters (our Operations Director has an encyclopaedic knowledge of most sports that leaves anyone else I know standing), and one could argue to assume otherwise is really quite patronising and not indicative of the rising inclusivity of many sports on a global scale. 

Office chit-chat (often continued during after-work drinks, at work-related events and other occasions) is one of the ways teams build and work allegiances are formed.  Controlling that by some form of management edict would be unworkable, prescriptive and patronising.  Can you allow office chat on selected topics and not others?

While Ms Francke’s comments have merit in their intention and the CMI seem to have research to back up her claim, as is often the case with attempts at balancing the workplace, they will fall on deaf ears if they are clumsily-targeted and have subsequently been the subject of ridicule.

We should not be asking management to curtail certain topics in office chitchat, rather every employee should have it in their work-DNA that non-inclusive discussions should not be allowed to swamp every person within earshot.  Any talk that makes a colleague uncomfortable shouldn’t need to be filtered out – it simply shouldn’t occur.  A healthy work culture is one of mutual respect and consideration and that should be fostered in all aspects of the work environment.

Share ideas and thoughts safely

I fear picking out football (or cricket or sport in general) talk, is somewhat off-target and misses the wider issue.  One’s workplace should be somewhere you can share your non-work ideas, thoughts, interests, hobbies and activities in an atmosphere of respect and understanding.  And pay your colleagues the same compliment by listening to theirs.  Knowing colleagues’ interests out of work, is a good way of getting to know them better and see them as a more-rounded person.  Quite naturally, some topics will bubble up to the top of the pile of the most-often discussed, but if they are divisive or offensive they should be managed-out by a work culture where they are not even considered for general, open-office discussion.

With many diversity, inclusion and gender-sensitive issues needing fixing, cherry picking like this is maybe even doing a disservice to the cause and work is needed to fashion cultures and environments where everyone can feel valued and respected.  In an era where it seems there are more minefields than ever put in front of ordinary, open-minded 21st century men (and women) in the quest for political correctness, singling out sports fans as laddish louts, will possibly alienate more than it will include.

What do you think? Is sports banter a path to the dark side? Check out some of our other similar articles here.