Big Boy Pants 

In the USA they call trousers “pants”. In our family big boy pants refers to the underwear that my 3 year old grand son wears as part of his toilet training. Just another example of the misunderstandings that can occur when we think we speak the same language or is there more to it? 

Philadelphia Mayor tells Trump to “Put big boy pants on”. So read a headline in the days after the election. I was shocked and puzzled, had political insults in the USA sunk to a new low. I have since found out that in the USA this expression means behave like a mature adult.

If everyone behaved in a mature adult fashion at work we probably wouldn’t  need HR. There would be fewer grievances, less friction in the work place, no personality conflicts, no dysfunctional teams, no inappropriate behaviour, no sexist comments, racist remarks or homophobic language, no unfounded rumours, no malicious  gossiping , no petty rivalries. 

Every organisation should have a Big Boy Pants policy. A document that spells out how employees should behave at work. Of course we shouldn’t have to tell people how to behave in the work place but experience tells us that some people can’t be trusted to be sensitive, respectful and considerate to their colleagues. If one person wants the office window open to let in some fresh air on a warm day and the person who sits next to the window wants to keep it closed to prevent a draft on the back of their neck they should be able to resolve the situation amicably. If some team members are irritated by a team member who never takes a turn washing up the dirty cups, if someone is abusing the honour system for tea and coffee, if items are going missing from the fridge shouldn’t mature adults be able to resolve these minor issues without involving colleagues, management, HR and the trade Union! Did I say minor issues that’s the problem the individuals concerned don’t think it is a minor issue , there is very quickly a loss of perspective. The very definition of immature and childish behaviour. 

Maybe your organisation already has a Big Boy Pants policy but you call it something different like an Employee Code of Conduct. Some re branding might raise the profile so that staff don’t think the Code is simply about intimate relationships at work when it‘s not acceptable and when you have to notify HR. Alternatively your organisation may have a number of different policy statement covering Equality and Diversity, Bullying, disciplinary action, absenteeism, misuse of office equipment and a dress code. All of which are about how employees are expected to behave at work and relate to colleagues. 

Of course having a comprehensive code of conduct doesn’t in itself improve the standard of behaviour in the organisation but in the words of the Mayor of Philadelphia isn’t it time we put our big boy pants on. 


Blair Mcpherson former Director, author and blogger 


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