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Honey or Not: Deciphering Terms of Endearment in the Corporate World

As I was grabbing a coffee, the barista said to me, "What can I get you, honey?" I didn't think much of it. In the South, it seems more common to hear people addressed as "honey." "Oh, sorry honey, we're out of ice right now." "Is there anything else you need, honey?" “Be careful, honey, the coffee is hot.” “Here, honey, let me help you with that.” I bring this up because not long ago, when I was working in a corporate environment, an employee complained that she didn't appreciate another female employee calling her "honey." She felt it was disrespectful. I met with the employee who had used the term "honey" and explained that in the workforce, we should be mindful of how we address people. I knew she liked to call people "honey," but I could see where someone could take offense. She was almost brought to tears by our conversation. I felt terrible about it, but it was a formal complaint filed with HR, and I had to address it as a leader. Regardless of my personal feelings, if a team member is uncomfortable, I will address the concern. Looking back, I wish I could have spoken to both employees. I wish I could have explained to the complainant that when another woman calls you "honey," it's almost certainly meant affectionately, not derogatorily. When I'm running errands, I often hear women (usually older women) refer to me and my husband as "honey." In the workplace, it's best to avoid using the term regardless of gender. As a leader, try to explain that it may be coming from a place of affection, not condescension or disrespect. If someone prefers not to be called "honey," respect their wishes. If they ignore your request, then take it to HR. Now, if a male calls an employee "honey," is it different? I would say it's not a good idea and it could be taken differently. It would feel different, and I wouldn't feel comfortable. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. My closing thoughts? Just leave the term of endearment honey, to just your true honey.

P.S. I've caught myself saying "honey" to many women, and I mean it sincerely. However, I've never slipped and called a male "honey."

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