By Racheal Nabisubi
“Hello my dear,” Rebecca’s boss usually calls out when greeting all her subordinates – male or female. Others take it a step higher by calling colleagues sweetheart or mukwano.
To most people these terms of endearment are a reserve of people they are intimately involved with but there are others who use these words loosely even in the work place.
There was a female presenter on one of Kampala’s upscale radio stations who used to refer to all her listeners female or male as ‘darling.’
It caused a stir in the beginning but after a while everyone got used to it and accepted her pattern of speech as such. Is using these words in the work place an acceptable way of making people feel comfortable and loved or is it over stepping formal boundaries?
Philip Busuulwa, a businessman uses words like ‘dear’ with ease in the execution of his work. His customers do not feel offended but rather valued and always come back to purchase more goods.
“My work requires me to be social and draw people closer in a friendly manner but not more intimately. Being friendly is part of good customer care and must be a part of business people’s speech,” he says.
Busuulwa, is however quick to add that he only uses sweet words but never follows them up with suggestive looks or touches. “One has to be careful lest they send the wrong message or cause havoc among couples,” he cautions.
Esther Wafula, a human resource manager at Uganda Management Institute (UMI), says words of endearment should be used sparingly. “Not everybody who uses them has ill intentions. However, if misunderstood such words tend to bring about more negative than positive impacts,” Wafula says.
“The words ‘honey’ and ‘sweetheart’ tend to bring smiles and peace alongside hope in the environment. Whereas flattery is sometimes easily laughed off, others can be perceived as sarcastic depending on the receiver” she added.
Wafula advises that words of endearment should be used carefully, first making sure you have created rapport with the receiver. “Lest you are accused of sexual harassment,” she cautions.
A worker is not comfortable with colleagues using terms of endearment when talking to her. What should she do?
Am I alone in thinking that terms of endearment should not be used in the office? At work this week I have been called “honey”, “sweetness”, “darling” and even “baby”. Sometimes by senior colleagues! It makes me shudder. I never call anyone anything more personal — we are colleagues, not lovers. So why can’t we stick to first-name terms?
The worker’s view
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with using endearments in the workplace, particularly when it is with someone you know well.
However, it should depend on the person and the situation. For example, you would not call your new boss “sweetheart”, and likewise a new employee would not expect to be called “love” by the CEO.
Calling each other Mr and Mrs is a bit formal, so it is probably best to stick to first names. If in doubt, ask a colleague.
The etiquette expert’s view
These terms are not allowed in the office or in any other professional workplace. Go to HR, find a poster on sexual harassment and display it somewhere prominent.
Stick to your guns on this one — you are using the correct office etiquette and that will be noticed.
Hopefully your colleagues will get the message from your behaviour and start watching their language. By being respectful in the way you talk to other people you will gain true professional respect back from them.
If things do not improve and it is really getting you down, put professional etiquette on the agenda for your next team meeting — no doubt you will discover other people feel the same way you do.
Sometimes, of course, colleagues use these terms of endearment because they have forgotten your name. If you are meeting someone for the first time and you instantly forget their name, you should just be honest and ask them to repeat it.
Although it is more difficult to do this when you have been working with someone for a while. However, using “sweetheart” is not the answer. Try asking another colleague.
Should workmates use words such as ‘sweetheart’ or ‘dear’ while addressing each other. Send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org