Because employees spend so much time together, it is sometimes difficult to keep their personal and work lives separate. It isn’t uncommon for co-workers to become friends and to spend time together outside of work. These relationships sometimes invite gossip and workplace drama, so what can an employer do when personal relationships affect the performance and culture within a company?
Here are a few examples of situations that may prompt concern or cause employees to focus on things other than their work tasks:
- Jim and Betty, coworkers, have dated in the past and then parted amicably. However, now that Jim is dating another co-worker, things don’t seem quite so agreeable between them.
- Amy and Cara became friends at work and decided to move in together to share expenses. Their personal squabbles about dishes in the sink, overnight guests and splitting expenses are affecting the workplace as colleagues are asked for opinions and are taking sides.
- Jessica called in sick for her shift on Wednesday, but posted pictures from a concert on Facebook. Her coworker, Robin, saw the post and let Jessica’s supervisor know about it. Now Jessica’s supervisor isn’t sure what action she can take.
What can an employer do in these situations?
Action needed only if workplace performance is involved
First of all, an employer needs to make sure action is taken only on matters that pertain to workplace performance. In the first case, the employer may want to evaluate Jim’s ability as a manager and have Betty report to someone else within the company, if their relationship is becoming a problem or conflict of interest. Gossip itself can be actionable if it becomes harassment.
Another thing to consider is involving a third party in coaching counseling and discipline. Even when addressing performance only, it can be hard for a manager or supervisor to completely separate from workplace gossip and personal feelings.
Another way to help facilitate a change in the workplace environment is to let employees know when their hard work is appreciated and offer incentives for good performance. An encouraging and uplifting policy may remove the focus from the gossip and drama to something more meaningful. This may also be a good time to evaluate the employee goal-setting process and give the employees something to focus on, other than each other. Also, create workplace policies that discourage gossip.
Educate employees about a healthy environment
Educate employees on how harmful workplace drama can be, and confront employees that appear to be “stirring the pot” or creating an uncomfortable work environment for others.
Workplace friendships and other connections are unavoidable, but drama and gossip is not a necessary part of running a business. By encouraging professional behavior and minimizing conflicts of interest, employees are better able to blend their personal and work lives.
Kari Stanley, Human Resources Customer Care Supervisor