When employees bring personal drama into the workplace

Getting them to put the focus back on work

Some employees talk more than others, especially about non-work topics.

But even if the constant chatter doesn’t interfere with their productivity, it can disrupt co-workers and their ability to perform their jobs.

That’s the situation manager Laura Reynolds found herself in when she finally had enough of an employee’s never-ending complaints.

Getting too personal

Laura shut the door to her colleague’s office behind her with a sigh of relief. “I’m so tired of hearing all that nonsense!” she said.

“What nonsense?” fellow manager Venessa Lewis asked.

“Lee,” Laura said. “All day, everyday, he’s complaining about something – the contractors he hired to fix up his house, some party he was invited to, his wife, his son … it just goes on and on!”

“Well, Lee has always been talkative,” Vanessa said.

‘One of our best workers’

“I know, and he’s also one of our best workers,” Laura said. “I mean, despite all his whining, he really gets a lot done, in a short amount of time.”

“If he’s so productive, then what’s the problem?” Vanessa asked.

Problem for the others

“The problem is, his constant complaints distract me, and everyone else who sits near him,” Laura said. “He’s not even complaining about work – it’s always something that has to do with his home life.

“I don’t need to know hos personal business.”

“Yea, I can see how that would get annoying,” Vanessa said. “Have you talked to him?”

“No, because he’s such a good worker,” Laura said. “I don’t want to make him feel like he’s not doing well, when he’s producing some of the best work here.”

The big question

Laura wanted employees to feel comfortable, but work wasn’t the place to discuss certain personal matters.

Up until now, she’s tolerated Lee’s complaints because he was otherwise a model employee.

But she was tired of hearing about his ongoing dramas – and knew his co-workers felt the same way.

She needed a tactful way to approach the situation, without insulting Lee and his work ethic.

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

Set aside daily ‘Complain Time’

I’d sit Lee down and explain how his complaints impact other people. Then I’d invite him to come talk to me everyday for 10 minutes, about whatever was on his mind – work-related or not. People get stressed out, and many vent to express frustrations. If he knows he has me to talk to, then he’ll be able to release his anger in a personal, one-on-one setting. But he also won’t interfere with other people’s ability to finish their work. In the past, I’ve warded off these kinds of situations by engaging the person in conversation first.

Julie Lang, Associate Principal – Cunningham Group Architecture, Minneapolis, MN

Work through the problem as a team

I’d talk to Lee and try to find out what hos problems were. Then I’d ask some of his co-workers whether they’d noticed the constant complaining, or any other strange behavior. If I determined this was a problem, I’d gather everyone together as a team to talk about the issues and concerns that people were having – like the disruptions to work. I find the most important part of being a successful worker is being able to work with everyone else as a team. If everyone works as a team and understands how everyone’s responsibilities – and personalities – affect everyone else, they’re less likely to do things that’ll disrupt others’ productivity.

Wayne Kendall, Manager – Bardstown Water Treatmant Plant, Bardstown, KY


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