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Workers give political correctness the finger (and the bosses aren’t much better)

- a recent survey by Hiscox, the specialist insurer of professional firms has revealed that bad language, rude jokes, over familiar behaviour and sexual innuendo is common in the workplace

London, UK - Employees are shunning political correctness by giggling at racist/sexist jokes and swearing or engaging in sexual banter, according to an investigation led by specialist business insurer, Hiscox.[1] Meanwhile, bosses for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are also showing an alarming disregard for office behaviour which could end in time consuming and expensive legal action.

The study found that well over half of employees swear in the office (65%) and conjure up nicknames for their colleagues (63%); over a third like to laugh at sexual innuendo (42%); and a third (32%) regularly hear jokes of a racist/sexist nature.

The 25 - 34 year olds are the worst offenders with over three quarters (78%) swearing in the workplace and 71% thinking up nicknames for their colleagues.  Half of this age group (50%) think using terms of endearment such as ‘pet’ or ‘love’ in the office is acceptable and 45% don’t bat an eyelid at sexual innuendo or banter.[2] 

More worryingly, SME bosses, while condemning some actions such as swearing or the use of sexual innuendo, seem to accept other behaviours which could equally lead to legal action against them.  Almost half of this group (41%) think that using a term of endearment such as ‘pet’ or ‘love’ for a colleague is perfectly acceptable; over three quarters (76%) don’t worry about nicknames in the workplace and over half (60%) don’t flinch at physical contact such as hugging or patting a colleague to encourage or congratulate them. [3]  Although these actions may seem harmless, they could lead to claims of bullying and sexual harassment in today’s workplace.

Gary Head, Professions Underwriting Director at Hiscox, said:

“These office antics are particularly alarming given the recent spate of high-profile legal discrimination cases, and a flurry of new employment legislation which has led to predictions of increased discrimination claims being brought against companies in the next two years.[4]

“Things have changed since today’s SME bosses were serving their apprenticeships. The law now goes a lot further in protecting the individual and whilst big business has woken up to this fact, largely as a result of costly law suits, our study shows that this remains a dangerous ’blindspot’ for SMEs. Anything that makes anyone feel uncomfortable can land bosses in hot water nowadays.

“By their very nature, SMEs are smaller organisations with a family like atmosphere.  This can create a false sense of security and our survey clearly shows that bosses aren’t as ‘clued -up’ as they think they are and are even guilty themselves of behaviour which many no longer find acceptable in the workplace. 

“The potential cost from employee lawsuits is huge and could even result in bankruptcy for a small business, not to mention untold reputational damage. It is essential that businesses review and revise their workplace practices and consider taking adequate insurance protection in the event that the worst happens.

"Most bosses will have considered what happens if their office burns down, but the fact is they are more likely to be sued by one of their employees."

The research also revealed that female SME bosses are, on the whole, better behaved than their male counterparts in the office.  Although they seem to have less of a problem with pinning up sexy posters than their male colleagues do (14% women verses 10% of men), 86% of women do not tolerate sexual innuendo whilst just under one quarter of male SME bosses consider this acceptable (20%).

Regional data from the Hiscox survey also showed that Northerners (73%) and Scots (72%) are the most likely to swear at work and the Scots use sexual innuendo and banter the most (47%) compared to the rest of Great Britain, whilst people from the north of England are more affectionate and use terms of endearment for their colleagues (55%).


Research carried out by ICM amongst 201 SME owners and 571 part and full-time workers between 13th and 17th August 2007.

[1]  Source: Research carried out by ICM amongst 201 SME owners and 571 part and full-time workers between 13th and 17th August 2007.

[2]  Source: Research carried out by ICM amogst 571 part and full-time workers between 13th and 17th August 2007.

[3]  Source: Research carried out by ICM amongst 201 SME owners between 13th and 17th August 2007.

[4]  Source: Legal Week/Davies Arnold Cooper.

Summary of findings


SME bosses' opinions

Workers' opinions

Any interesting regional splits?


70 % unacceptable

65% do it
78% of 25-34 year olds do it

Northerners swear the most (73%)
Scots (72%)

Calling people nicknames

76% acceptable

63% do it
71% of 25-34 year olds do it

Scots do this the most 71%

Use terms of endearment

50% unacceptable

47% do it
50% of 25-34 year olds do it

Northerners do this the most (55%)


60% acceptable

39% do it
38% of 25-34 year olds do it

South East do this the most (47%)

Sexual innuendo

79% unacceptable

42% do it
45% of 25-34 year olds do it

Scots do this the most (47%)


83% unacceptable

12% do it
12% of 25-34 year olds do it

South East do this the most (16%)

All company emails with jokes

78% unacceptable

14% do it
20% 25-34% year olds do it

Scots do this the most (25%)

Racist/sexist/religious jokes

84% unacceptable

32% do it
32% of 25-34 year olds do it

Those in Wales and the South West do this the most (36%)

For further information please contact:



Telephone number


Rebecca Olejnik


020 7448 6000

Dina Shoukry/Nicola Conron

Fishburn Hedges

020 7839 4321

About Hiscox

Hiscox, headquartered in Bermuda, is a specialist insurance group listed on the London Stock Exchange. There are three main underwriting parts of the Group – Hiscox Global Markets, Hiscox UK and Europe, and Hiscox International.  Hiscox Global Markets underwrites mainly internationally traded business in the London Market – generally large or complex business which needs to be shared with other insurers or needs the international licences of Lloyd’s. Hiscox UK and Hiscox Europe offer a range of specialist insurance for professionals and business customers, as well as high net worth individuals. Hiscox International includes operations in Bermuda, Guernsey and the USA. 

For further information, visit

Insurance for SMEs

For organisations with up to 250 employees, Hiscox enables clients to mix and match the types and level of cover to suit their individual needs. The covers range from professional indemnity, internet and email insurance to directors and officers’ liability. Our professional indemnity cover is industry specific. We also offer a complete suite of office packages to cover buildings, contents, business interruption and other liabilities.