Gabby the Gossip

Problem: The office grapevine is alive and kicking thanks to this employee. She is either the source of the gossip or she helps spread the news around.

Solution: If gossips aren’t stopped, their loose lips can take a toll on company morale and put a dent in employee productivity. If the information being passed along is confidential in nature, discipline accordingly. Otherwise, discourage office gossip without sounding as though you’re trying to prevent employees from talking to one another altogether.

  • Emphasize the harmful effects gossiping can have and how rumors can hurt co-workers and the company in general.
  • If the information is false, make that clear. Nothing cuts a grapevine deeper than inaccuracies.
  • Take a proactive stance and flood the grapevine with correct information when it comes to company matters.

That way, workers won’t have to go to the office gossip for their facts. The more open you are to answering questions or clarifying issues, the less employees will rely on gossip. Of course, don’t be afraid to tell employees when you’re not at liberty to discuss something either.

Don’t try to completely kill the grapevine. It’s human nature for people to exchange “inside information” about what’s happening in the office. Too many attempts to stifle employee communications will cause them to suspect the company is covering something up. Also, you don’t want to risk running afoul of the National Labor Relations Act by punishing employees for talking about terms and conditions of employment.

Cubicle Casanova

Problem: Office romances are not prohibited. A single male employee has dated four women in the short time since he’s been hired and has expressed interest in two others. He has not harassed or pressured any of them, there has not been any fallout from any of the breakups, and none of the women have expressed any problem with him either before or after their relationship. He has no direct reports, but is on track for a higher-level management position.

Solution: It seems like only a matter of time before this employee’s dating habits cause a problem. Especially if he continues to fish from the company pond as a management-level employee.

The most obvious problem is potential sexual harassment claims. The legal risk only gets greater the higher he moves up the corporate ladder. That said, the powers that be may not want to take that chance with him. So while they may not put a stop to his dating behavior, they may pass him over for promotion because of it. Clue him in. Potential legal risk to the company may not be as big of a change motivator as answering “what’s in it for me?”

You don’t necessarily have to prohibit him from dating colleagues, but advise him to keep his personal life a little more separate from his work life. And keep your ear to the ground to ensure romances remain consensual.

Angry Andy

Problem: The employee has an anger management problem. He hasn’t thrown any punches, but his quick temper has everyone around him walking on eggshells.

Solution: When the employee loses his cool, address the issue as soon as possible.

  • Recognize the employee’s emotions and empathize with him. Example: “Andy, I know you were frustrated to learn that the deadline was pushed up two weeks. We all were.”
  • Discuss what specifically about the employee’s behavior was inappropriate. Example: “Your reaction to Saul when he told you that the deadline was being pushed up was disrespectful. You yelled at him, used profane language, and even threw a file folder at his feet.”
  • Stand your ground if the employee’s blood begins to boil. Example: “If you continue to raise your voice, I’m going to ask you to leave this meeting. We’ll continue the conversation tomorrow, after you’ve calmed down. I, however, would like to put this issue to bed right now. What do you say?”
  • Explain how you expect the employee to behave in the future. Example: “From now on, I expect you to deal with your feelings of frustrations more constructively. Take a five-minute walk to clear your head if you need to, or come and talk to me. My door is always open if you want to discuss your frustrations in a rational, professional manner.”
  • Outline consequences for future blowups. Example: “If you lose your cool again, I will start the disciplinary process.”

Cursing Curtis

Problem: An employee swears constantly in routine conversations, and even when he’s just “thinking out loud” and talking to himself. He doesn’t swear in an angry or harassing way toward co-workers, and he doesn’t have contact with the public. He may not even be aware he’s doing it.

Solution: The first thing you need to do is make the employee aware that his language is an issue. If he’s not aware there’s a problem, there’s no chance of change.

Swearing doesn’t have to result in co-worker harassment or poor public relations in order for you to send out a cease and desist order. If you think his language is a workplace problem, that’s all the justification you need to act.

When you address the issue for the first time, approach it as a “heads up” to the worker; don’t attack, don’t discipline. Let him know what you’ve observed in terms of his behavior. Explain that the language is unprofessional and creates an unpleasant work environment that may be offensive to others.

If he needs a “what’s in it for me” incentive before making a change, explain how the constant cursing reflects poorly on him and that his language may damage his career when, say, he’s gunning for a promotion.

If the employee is not amenable to changing his ways, be prepared for a freedom of speech claim. Don’t fall for it! The First Amendment only applies to government employers, not private employers—and that doesn’t mean government employees are free to swear as much as they want. Private employers do have a little more freedom to create and enforce rules and policies on workplace behavior. So even though there is no legal precedent for prohibiting swearing in casual conversation (as there is for swearing at customers), you can still prohibit it.

If the employee is being really obstinate, there is a “legal” angle with which you can approach him. Because employers are required by law to prevent harassment in the workplace, if a question ever comes down to an employee’s “right” to say whatever he/she wants versus another employee’s right to work in a harassment-free workplace, the employer’s anti-harassment efforts would win. And you don’t need to wait for another employee to complain, because you’re expected to take steps if you see or hear potential harassment with your own eyes and ears.

Disputes between employees are inevitable. But if left unresolved, they can disrupt your department’s productivity, sap morale and even cause some good employees to quit.



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