Friday, July 22, 2011

Mail Bag: Staff spreading rumors

I don't really receive any mail, but I do check the search logs to see how people arrived here.
Here's an interesting question someone recently posed to the great Google.

"i am a manager and my staff are spreading rumors, how should i handle?"

My advice depends greatly upon several factors:

1. Are you SURE?
If you have solid evidence that your staff is talking about you, you may need to take action.  If you aren't absolutely certain, do nothing until you have enough information to know for sure.  And remember, hearsay is inadmissible in a court of law, and should also be inadmissible with us, most of the time so if you only know this because one person told you, hang tight.  Someone repeating things other people say cannot be completely trusted; they may have their own agenda or be misunderstanding the situation.

2. How bad are the rumors?
Are they telling others you did something that you find morally repugnant,  illegal, career jeopardizing?  Like that you're cheating on your spouse, stealing from the company or doing illegal drugs?  If it's one of this things and you have solid evidence, you must absolutely take action.  If not, you can either roll your eyes and make light of it, thereby putting everyone on notice that you know their yaking, or rise above them and ignore it.

3. How much authority do you have?
Can you take effective action, or do you need the help of your Management and HR department?

4. Do you have a management team that trusts and respects you and your work?
You want to make certain that when you take action, you aren't jeopardizing your own position.  If this answer to this is no, set your sights on finding a new workplace.  No paycheck is worth working for people that don't trust and respect you.

5. Are the rumors true?
This is really important.  If they are true, the situation needs to be handled carefully.  With true rumors, I suggest approaching the greatest of the offenders (only if you are certain) and saying something like
"I'm coming to you because I've noticed that people pay attention when you speak and I think you can help with a small problem.  I'm concerned there are some things happening here that are distracting people from their work. The reason we are all here is to get our jobs done so we can feed our families.  Distractions from our work makes problems for us all, and I'm looking to you as a leader here to help us get back on track."

If the rumors are false, you are certain of their source, the rumors are serious enough, you have the authority and the respect of your management team you can take a much stronger stance.  Depending upon your culture I would first speak with HR and your direct manager and let them know you think this needs to be addressed.

There are two ways to approach it, one is directly and alone, the other is directly and with an HR Rep present.  If you have an office, call the person into it.  If not, use the HR office or a conference room.  Tell them calmly and in a professional matter-of-fact tone "I understand you've been telling people that I .  This is unacceptable.  We are paid to work here, not gossip about one another.  Your behavior is undermining and distracting to our business. This is your one warning that if you continue to disrupt our office in this manner, there will be serious repercussion."

I suggest doing this in your own office because it's a reminder that you are in charge. State the rumor out loud because it shows you are not afraid or ashamed, nor should you be.  The rest tells them that you won't tolerate distractions from work.  That takes this out of the realm of a personal issue between you and the offender, and shows that the offense they are committing is really against the company, not you personally.

Do this or some variation for each and every employee involved.  Have the HR person there solely as a witness, you do the talking because it's your job to see that your staff is being productive.  Treat this like any other issue that threatens that productivity.  Focus solely on the effect this has on everyone's work rather than the feelings you may be having. Work isn't about feelings. If you are certain this happened, there is no need to allow this person to speak, other than to say "I am sorry."  If they do that, accept their apology and let everyone move on.

Then if they do it again to you or anyone else, find out from HR what it takes to fire them.  Seriously.
This type of thing can cause great damage to productivity, and cannot be tolerated.

If the rumors are true, personal and not so terrible, a lighter but similar approach can be taken and HR really isn't necessary (unless the person is the untrustworthy powder-keg type, likely to try and retaliate.)  "I understand you've been gossiping about your co-workers. That's unacceptable, very uncool and not good for our workplace.  Let's focus on our work, and make this the last time we need to discuss this issue."

That's my non-expert advice.  If you have this problem, be strong and carry on.  They put you in charge for a reason and this type of thing is something you can handle through "showin' em who's boss."

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