Aug 7, 2017

Censorship in the workplace: Salary talk is proving awkward for British employees

We decided to look into censorship in the workplace: how Britain’s employees feel about the concept and the topics that irk them most. In our survey of 1,916 workers, we discovered a significant number of the workforce feel awkward discussing a variety of subjects and nearly half would ban at least one topic of conversation.

The most awkward topic is viewed as religion, with 42% of respondents placing it at the top spot. Sex and salaries came joint second (41%) meaning employees feel as uncomfortable discussing salaries as they do sex. The third most cringe-worthy topic in the workplace is politics (35%).

If given the chance to ban such topics, nearly half (47%) of Britain’s workforce would accept the offer. So while the majority are not in favour of censorship in the workplace, many are not opposed to the idea. Even seemingly harmless subjects such as eating habits and upbringing came under fire. However the most popular choices to ban are the big three red-flag topics: religion (19%), sex (18%), and politics (15%) – and salaries isn’t far behind (11%).

Recent revelations of wage inequality at the BBC have no doubt sparked gender pay gap unease so it’s unsurprising employees feel uncomfortable discussing salaries in the workplace. When one in eight people have fallen out with a colleague after a heated political debate, politics proves to be a similarly divisive subject.

Conversations involving sexuality (23%), race (20%), and mental or physical illness (20%) were also marked out as particularly awkward. However it must be noted that for 10% of Britain’s workforce, no conversation is off the cards.

Peter Ames, our Head of Strategy, has the following advice: “When it comes to conversations in the workplace, it’s often a case of realising what you maybe shouldn’t discuss rather than what you cannot discuss. Under The Human Rights Act, we’re all entitled to freedom of expression and this naturally encompasses a broad range of topics. It’s important to respect people’s boundaries however and consider your professional image. Of course, hate speech and that of a discriminatory kind is never acceptable.

“It’s very rare that an employer will have an outright ban on a topic, but depending on the type of work, there may be security clearance issues or nondisclosure clauses. So it’s always worth checking your contract for such restrictions.

“It’s also important to be clear that some conversations, despite being potentially awkward, should definitely be up for discussion. Talking about salaries, health and other potentially ‘awkward’ issues with an employer can help progression, wellbeing, and equality.”

Relevant legislation:

The are two key acts related to workplace censorship and freedom of speech: the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act.

The Human Rights Act: This act lists the fundamental rights to which people in the UK are entitled. It covers rights such as: freedom of thought, belief and religion (Article 9); freedom of expression (Article 10); and protection from discrimination (Article 14).

The Equality Act: Seeking to protect people from discrimination in the workplace and beyond, this act replaced and consolidated previous laws involving various forms of discrimination. It covers the ways in which it is unlawful to treat a person, based on characteristics such as age, race, or gender, and so on. 


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