Declining standards of behaviour 'could prove costly'


Declining standards of language and behaviour at work could prove costly for British businesses operating in the global market, a leading employment lawyer has warned.

The warning, from Julian Hemming, Head of International Employment Law at Osborne Clarke, follows calls from the Institute of Directors and Federation of Small Businesses for the banning of offensive behaviour at work.

A survey for Office Angels last year found that almost three-quarters of employees often ignore emails, two-thirds turn up late for meetings, half answer their mobiles and a third chew gum during meetings.

Encouragingly, however, three-quarters of employees who regularly swear at work wish they could kick the habit.

Hemming says that for any business that wants to operate on a global stage, paying attention to how the company might be perceived by international businesses is vitally important.

Getting out of bad habits can not only create a better working environment but can also make businesses more attractive to outside investors and can assist them to operate more effectively on the global stage.

Companies look for high standards of fair dealing and business efficacy and the standards of behaviour of those with whom they do business can impact on their willingness to proceed with the deal at all, he says.

Hemming also argues that international businesses looking to acquire in the UK want to understand fully the cost implications of any potential employee issues as that will affect their approach to the negotiation and the purchase price they are prepared to pay.

"If UK business is seeking to attract foreign investment, then bad manners in the work place can have a seriously detrimental impact."

"A 'bad language culture' can create a hostile and intimidating environment and give rise to claims of bullying in the workplace."

This could be particularly damaging to companies that are being acquired by US companies, as employee claims are perceived to attract very high levels of compensation in the States.

Whilst there is no legislation within the UK specifically concerned with workplace bullying or bad language, victims can obtain protection and remedies through the Employment Rights Act 1996.

A victim of bad language could also pursue an unfair constructive dismissal claim should the bad language or bullying cause the employee to resign from employment.

Bullying has given rise to claims under the EU discrimination legislation for which compensation is unlimited. To a US business "unlimited compensation" can conjure an image of multi-million dollar lawsuits which will drive them away.

Bad manners can also have implications for British companies investing abroad. Hemming says.

"If you want to understand and get under the skin of other cultures, the way in which you present your business to them can make a material difference. Ignorance of local customs and practices will not help you to open doors."

According to Hemming, businesses should ensure that their workforce understands the impact that good manners can have.

"Good manners have an impact not just on the wellbeing of everyone in the workplace, but on the financial performance of the business and its ability to attract inward investment," says Hemming.

Five ways to tackle the 'bad language culture'
  • Make the provision of a safe and secure workplace a priority.
  • Take all reasonable steps to protect employees from foul and abusive language and from other forms of harm. Make clear that employees have a duty to bring any incidents or suspected incidents of bullying to the company's attention.
  • Takes steps to ensure that employees do not feel guilty about suffering such problems and encourage them to seek any relief and support they need.
  • Take any issues relating to bullying seriously and so far as possible deal with them confidentially.