I’ll always remember my mother’s reaction when a gentleman half her age called her “sweetie” amidst a conversation. Whether the words come from a male or female, these terms, even as a pattern of speech, can make an individual’s blood boil.
These words, known often as terms of endearment, are usually reserved for intimate and family relationships. When they are loosely used in the workplace they can have a very negative connotation implying immaturity and naivety. Though some would argue that the colloquial forms of language help build or reinforce relationships, it has to be weighed with the perception of the individual on the receiving end. For example, you would never call your boss “love.” On the other side, when a colleague or Manager calls someone “honey,” it doesn't reflect the experience of the individual. It could be interpreted as a form of disrespect.
Would you call a group of men in an administrative capacity “the boys” or a group of female board members “the girls”?
Though it is likely that the individual using these words has an intention that is harmless, these words can be patronizing to a customer and condescending or demeaning to a coworker. A complaint may not even have been made, but a conversation should be had with the individual. Begin by explaining the company's culture of wanting a positive workspace for everyone and how this can erode that culture. If needed, put together a plan or list of appropriate words that could be used instead if the root of using these terms is due to familiarity with colleagues or to make customer relationships feel personal.
How do you level-set this in your organization? Start with your written policies. What is written in the policy should be trained out to all levels of individuals in the organization as part of the Violence & Harassment in the Workplace Program.
Contact us today to chat about how we can make sure your workplace is up to date on its policies including your organization’s customized program and training!
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