When to deal with unacceptable behavior

Whining is a warning of a more serious problem

Let’s face it. Most change isn’t part of a grand strategic plan.

It occurs every time you make new hire.

Of course, we try to hire folks who’ll fit in and make us better. But sometimes a single person alters the group chemistry in a way that hurts the operation.

And it’s not always the new hire who is the culprit. That’s the situation manager Carol Kane found herself in when members of her staff had trouble accepting the new hire.

She’s different, but talented

“So, how’s Jan, your new employee, doing?” said fellow manager Rick Colton as he plopped down in a side chair.

“Well, she’s a bit of an odd duck,” said Carol, “but her work has been terrific. She’s really hit the ground running.”

“Why do you ask?”

Just jealousy?

“I overheard Susan and Mel sniping about her at lunch today,” Rick said.

“Guess my two star employees are feeling a little professional jealousy,” Carol said.

“Could be, but their comments weren’t very professional,” Rick said. “And they ran the gamut.”

“Like what?” asked Carol.

“Well, they started out making fun of the clothes she wears. Particularly a fuzzy blue sweater,” Rick said.

Is she a fraud or just good?

“I have to admit, her sense of style is on the eccentric side,” said Carol. “And that sweater does vaguely resemble a dust bunny.”

“They think she’s a fraud because she talks to customers with this sugary, syrupy happy voice,” Rick said.

“Well, I hate to break it to Susan and Mel, but that’s how she really talks,” Carol said.

“And, of course, they said she spends too much time sucking up to you,” Rick said.

The big question

Carol noticed that Susan and Mel had given Jan a chilly reception, but she assumed they would eventually accept Jan – and her eccentricities.

After all, Jan was doing good work and you didn’t have to “like” everyone you worked with, just respect them.

The fact that Susan and Mel were making comments others could hear, however, was a problem.

Carol thought she probably needed to act. She got herself a cup of coffee as she mulled her options.

If you were in Carol’s situation, what would you do? One of the ideas below offered by our readers might provide you with some guidance.

1) Make gossip tantamount to harassment

I’d do some investigating. Chances are, if my fellow manager overheard their remarks, others did, too. So, I’d go find that out. Once I’d gathered all my facts, I’d write up each of them as if I were dealing with a harassment case and meet with them individually. I’d tell them I heard about the remarks they made concerning the new hire and that gossip wouldn’t be tolerated. I’d explain I was writing them up and why. We’d go through the paperwork, and then I’d get them to sign and date it. Gossip creates a hostile work environment, so it must be nipped in the bud.

Liz Henson, VP/Human Resources, CL Boyd Company, Inc., Oklahoma City, OK

2) Address the employees individually to stop the behavior

If I were in Carol’s shoes, I’d meet with my employees individually, I’d tell them I was made aware of their derogatory conversation about the new employee I hired and suggest they keep their personal opinions to themselves. I’d also stress that in a place of business they’re paid to do their jobs, not to stand around and gossip about people. Then I’d bring up the topic of gossiping in my next monthly meeting – without naming names, of course. I’d stress the importance of teamwork, which won’t occur if workers are talking about each other behind their backs.

Chris Jepson, Manager, International Electric Services, Inc., Riverton WY


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  1. Ed Danielski says

    Disciplining, or even prohibiting, gossip in the workplace has been ruled as a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. Is is also the subject of several dismissed lawsuits and charges where the employee claimed harassment due to “gossip.” Taking severe action against
    More importantly, how do you define what is gossip and what is conversation between friends/co-workers?
    You will never stop employees from talking about each other and making comparisons regarding performance, pay, favoritism, etc. It is a business, not a cloistered convent.
    Punishment (“writing them up” – exactly what is that?) does not resolve the problem.
    The aspect we are missing here is to determine what is causing the behavior. Is there any real substance behind the issue? Are there some workplace issues or rules that are problems? Is it assignments, performance issues, managerial issues? Is gossip a plea for management action? Is is the nature of the work, the organization?
    A good place to start is determining why it is happening. Gathering facts isn’t determining who said what, it is determining why is is happening. The why is more important than the what.

      • Angela Londot says

        Precisely Ed! So many times what “Rick” has heard came out of context,… not to mention, to harp on every piece of gossip would have Employee Relations professionals and managers running around like crazy! Piggy-backing on what Ed said, the quest is to find out “why”. It would also be beneficial to apply the Ladder of Inference, and get to the bottom of how those individuals came to that conclusion. We’re all guilty of subconsciously thinking bad things about people, and whenever someone else confirms our assumptions, the belief that someone is of a certain way has just been solidified, that much more. It pays to walk Susan and Mel through it and understand why they are having these assumptions about Jan.

  2. Steven Knight says

    I agree with the second idea. Having a private conversation with each individual, without trying officious would be the proper way to handle the situation. If Susan and Mel continued to denigrate and gossip about Jan in common spaces at work, then maybe a more aggressive approach would be in order.

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