People & Human Resources

Qantas staff told to avoid gendered names like “guys” and “honey”: Should your workplace enforce bans on key words?

Emma Koehn /

Qantas has advised its staff to ditch words like “guys” and “honey” in order to work towards a more inclusive company culture, and one legal expert says SMEs could also benefit from developing a plan for courteous language in the office.

The airline confirmed to SmartCompany this morning it had shared information sheets about inclusive language, prepared by the Diversity Council of Australia, with its staff.

“We want Qantas to be an inclusive workplace and we shared some factsheets created by the Diversity Council of Australia with some suggestions on more inclusive language, particularly on gender, age and LGBTI issues,” a Qantas spokesperson explained.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the materials included asking staff to avoid words, like “honey” or “guys”, which could be construed as inappropriate, as well as using the word “partner” instead of “husband” or “wife”.

The information sheet also reportedly reminds staff that Australia was not settled by Europeans, but colonised.

Managing director at Workplace Law Athena Koelmeyer says while Qantas has the weight of a large human resources department behind it, setting guidelines for staff about the language they use is also within the grasp of SMEs.

Koelmeyer says it can be more challenging that ever to ensure staff interact with each other with “courtesy”.

However, a business can ask its staff to avoid certain language, or ensure they act respectfully to certain groups, and employers can do this without coming up with a list of “banned” words.

I think that the using the fundamental rule of ‘do as you would be done by’ serves organisations well, without having to implement your own dictionary,” she says. 

Challenges of a casual work environment

Koelmeyer says particularly for businesses that grow quickly, it can be a challenge to enforce expectations around things like swearing and inclusive language, particularly if company founders knew each other well when they started their business.

“There can be a bit of a feeling that ‘we’re all very casual’, not in a traditional office environment and wearing suits, so there can become a blurring of the lines between what is matey conversation and what is for a professional workplace environment,” she says.

However, it is best practice for businesses to think about how their language might affect others, which is why it’s a good idea to establish early on an expectation that workers avoid speaking in a way that may make some uncomfortable or feel excluded, Koelmeyer says.

From an SME perspective, something that would be readily able to be implemented is to introduce a more generic guideline to not use language that could be offensive. You could say, ‘let’s not use colloquialisms for people, let’s call people by their names, rather than ‘sweetie’ or ‘love”, which I just think is polite,” she says. 

If a business has consistently reminded staff to speak courteously to each other, it provides a good platform for employers to pull workers aside if their conversations at work are inappropriate for your business.

“It would then be enough to pull someone aside and say, ‘hey, remember when we discussed this issue? Now straighten up and fly right’.”

NOW READ: What employers need to know about bad language in the workplace

Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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  • Gabriel

    My wife would be offended if I call her my “partner”, and vice versa.
    There’s something meant in the use of ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ that just isn’t there in ‘partner’.

    • Michael Farrell

      its not a difficult concept people – “its not about you”, its about other people that you don’t know. Your niece is probably comfortable with you calling her sweetie or princess but that doesn’t apply to the workplace. Similarly I expect blokes who have just met me to show a bit of respect and not be cheeky or over familiar. Its not bowing to political correctness to refrain from blue baby jokes around a couple who have lost a child to cot death, it is just being a decent human being.

  • Garry

    This is what you get when you put pathetic brain dead morons in charge of anything, they turn the whole lot to shit because of their fucked up view of the world.

  • In the words of the beautiful Afrikaans language: “Julle kan almal gaan kak!” I’m not going to refer to my wife as my partner – I’ll get slapped silly. Maybe there’s a way to meet folks halfway and not take this to the extreme. Being here in Aus, I’ve started to use the term “mate” quite a bit for humans. But I promise, if a lady calls me honey (as a term of endearment) I really will not be slitting my wrists.

    • Rohan Baker

      Maybe, but if your partner, er… wife sees that happening, I think that the doghouse is where you’ll be sleeping…

    • Michael Farrell

      The reference to partner is not your partner, its to someone else, when you don’t know if they are married and how they view their relationship. Of course people that know you refer to your partner as your wife should definitely refer to her as such.

  • jota6689

    what is going to ultimately happen is a lot less employment opportunities for certain genders and sectors. For instance I will be advising clients to think very hard before they employ women or those classified as part of a minority group.

  • Rohan Baker

    The movie “Idiocracy” is no longer a work of fiction, its a documentary.

  • Caity

    As a female, immigrant, and member of the LGBT community can I just say- grow some balls. God, I hate my generation. in what world is “honey” rude oh my god

    • jota6689

      I agree with getting rid of ‘honey’. It is a term mostly used by older women who should know better. As a male I am sooo mortally offended when it is used in my presence and feel sexually violated when it is said direct to me. I feel a male metoo moment coming on. All said, the Qantas PC brigade are doing nothing more than belittling and making a sick joke out of the very serious and important issue of gender biases and discrimination.

  • Caity

    As a female, immigrant, and member of the LGBT community can I just say- grow some balls. God, I hate my generation. in what world is “honey” rude oh my god

  • Annie Warburton

    This is not, as Qantas, the Diversity Council and Workplace Law seem to be saying, just about ‘courteous’ and ‘inclusive’ language. It’s a narrow-minded social elite seeking to impose its PC ideology on the wider society. To ‘remind’ people that Australia was ‘colonised’ and not ‘settled’ is unequivocally a political interpretation, and an employer has NO business dictating a particular political viewpoint to its employees. And it’s absolutely outrageous that employees should be asked not to use traditional terms like ‘husband’, ‘wife’ and ‘mum’ and ‘dad’. People should be free to refer to partners, lovers, girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, husbands, wives or whatever, according to their own circumstances, surely? Doesn’t freedom of speech apply here to ALL sections of society?