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No sweetheart deal in the workplace

Is red tape even stifling language in the workplace?
Is red tape even stifling language in the workplace? Randy Hines

WHEN it comes to workplace language, it's usually pretty easy to establish boundaries.

Depending on where you're working and with whom, deciding how to address colleagues, clients or customers should not be difficult.

Which is why this story, which popped up through the week, seems more than a little odd.

NSW North Coast health workers were advised not to address co-workers or patients by terms such as mate, as this was deemed inappropriate by the Northern NSW Local Health District.

The ABC reported workers were notified via a memo that using the terms - including darling, sweetheart and honey - could be perceived as disrespectful, disempowering and non-professional.

"The utilisation of this language within the workplace at any time is not appropriate and may be perceived as disrespectful, disempowering and non-professional," the memo said.

"This type of language should not be used across any level of the organisation such as employee-to-employee or employee-to-client."

While I can understand terms like darling can be inappropriate, particularly if used by a male addressing a female, to bundle mate into the same category seems extreme.

We are a nation quick to show our pride at our foundation of mateship, yet it's apparently not okay to use what is essentially a colloquialism.

I think the issue here is not so much about regulating employees' speech, but a lack of faith in their professionalism, and their ability to assess a situation and engage appropriately with their patients.

Trust your employees. You've entrusted them with so much when you've given them the job. Let them use their own common sense and address patients as they see fit.

Interestingly, there is no obligation under any international treaty to which Australia is a signatory, to protect any person or group from offence. There is, however, an obligation to protect free speech.

Basically, you have the freedom to offend, but no right not to be offended.

Surely patients have more important things to worry about - the surgeon who just addressed them as mate or sweetheart might have just spent hours performing a complex operation to keep them alive. I couldn't care less what they called me.

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