How to Handle a Gossiping Employee

Uncategorized Apr 04, 2019

 Who they are: How to Handle a Gossiping Employee- Every manager at one point or another,  no matter how well liked or how effective, has either felt the wrath of their team or felt alienated by them from time to time. If you go through your management career with a strong desire to be liked, this can be particularly difficult.

People tend to forget that managers are human too; if you walk into a room and all conversation suspiciously stops, it’s not a particularly nice experience. Neither is walking into the pub after work and finding that you are the only person not invited for drinks. As we already know, the phrase ‘it’s lonely at the top’ was invented for a reason.

Ironically, it’s sometimes easier to deal with the idea of the team talking about you behind your back when you’ve given them something to talk about – say redundancies, reprimands, a change in working hours or any other change that they are entitled to share their opinions on.

If you are working hard to be accepted, trusted and liked by the team and find that they are still talking about you and refusing to invite you, however, it can be difficult to take.

Here’s my two pence worth on that:

What to do:

  • First, don’t be paranoid. Just because your team are all together and seem a little suspicious, don’t get paranoid. They may or may not be talking about you. They could just as easily be talking about the manager in another department that is having an affair with his secretary or the post boy that the women all fancy. Don’t be led astray by negative thoughts.
  • Work with the facts: if you hear them talking about you, you have something to work with. If you don’t, you have nothing. Don’t go on imagination; you could be wrong and it will be easy to deny anyway.
  • It’s normal! It’s going to happen so you have to live with it; it’s just one of those things. Workers in every company in every industry across the world get together to whinge about the boss from time to time. It’s a unifying theme; in short, it’s often how team members bond. I challenge you to find a single employee who hasn’t criticised or slagged off the boss in their working life. Indeed, think back to before you moved into the ranks of management; be honest – did you ever do the same? Of course you did. We all did. We just never realised how it felt from the other side before.

Oh by the way: the fact that your team will get together and share their observations about you is just one reason why you need to treat everyone equally, be consistent in your dealings with team members and why you should never pass comment negatively about one employee in front of another. I guarantee you that it will get back to them and will impact on their morale.

  • Talk to them: Of course, while it is entirely normal that your staff will discuss you when you’re not there, you don’t want to let it become divisive. Your relationship with your team can be the strongest asset you have; don’t let it suffer if you can help it. If you know or suspect that there is a specific reason for the gossiping or complaining – perhaps they are unhappy with a recent decision you made, for instance – talk to them about it. Either meet with team members individually, or talk to the team as a whole, and ask them how they are dealing with the decision you made.

Be prepared to listen to them and confirm you have heard and have taken on-board what they are saying; you can do this by repeating their points back to them to summarise and gain their agreement of the issues in question.

Now you have a choice to make; you can either amend your decision after taking the feedback, or stick with it; I can’t help you with that choice. You are going to have the make the decision based on the particular issues at hand.

All I can say is that you shouldn’t change or reverse your decision just because staff are vocal about their unhappiness; your role as a manager is to sometimes make the unpopular decisions that are needed to in order for the company to grow. That said a good manager can also be flexible and prepared to admit when they are wrong; if the decision isn’t crucial to the success of the company or department and the team bring up issues that you’d never really thought of, don’t be afraid to reconsider your decision.

If you do decide to stick with the decision, be prepared to explain your thinking to the team. State why you believe the decision is necessary and run through the consequences of not making the decision. The chances are that once the team feel that they have been listened to, they will be more receptive to your point of view and will understand, if not agree with, the reasons behind the decision. The goal is not to make them change their mind but to be able to move forward as a team together.

  • A word to the wise here: teams will often be uneasy with major changes that are introduced with little or no consultation. You don’t have to ask their permission for every decision you make, but you should try to include them in your thought process or at least explain the reasoning behind your bigger decisions. Thrusting changes on a team with no prior discussion demonstrates lack of respect for your team members. If they have been at the company longer than you, for instance, they may actually know more about certain processes than you do; as such, they are a great resource to use. It’s tempting for new managers to want to stamp their authority on a new team and job, but they often do so before they have a full appreciation for the intricacies of the current working process; rather than risk making an unpopular and poorly thought out decision, consult with those workers who can point you in the right direction.
  • Work harder to bond: If you feel that your team are talking about you behind your back, you may want to try to make yourself more accessible. This may not always help but you’ll find that employees often gossip about the boss simply because they don’t know you very well and feel little loyalty because they have no access to you as a person. If you see the team in the pub after work, for instance, why not ask if you can join them? Show them your human side; spend some time with them outside of the work environment. Buying a round of drinks always helps to foster good feeling!

If you are struggling to bond with your team, invite them to a department-sponsored bonding event. You could opt for a formal team building or team bonding session with outside experts or simply throw some money in the kitty and take them to the pub, for a meal, bowling or even playing rounders in the park on a sunny day, with beer and burgers thrown in afterwards. Whatever you do, make it fun so it doesn’t feel like work. Once the team can relate to you as a person as well as the boss, things tend to get a little easier.

Assuming you want to talk to your employees about an unpopular decision you recently made, let’s imagine how that discussion with your team could go:


Manager: “Hi everyone; thanks for coming. I’ve called you all here today because I want us to talk about how things are going. I made some pretty big changes last week and I want to see how they are impacting on you. Does anyone want to tell me how they’re getting on after the changes?”

Employee one: “I will. I’m not happy with them.”

Manager: “OK, can you tell me why?”

Employee one: “It means more work for me; I have to take on more responsibilities without any more money and without any recognition.”

Employee two: “I think it was wrong to let Julie and Emma go like that; they were nice women. We could have worked something out.”

Employee three: “Yes, they were our friends and now we have to take on their work.”

Employee four: “It does make you wonder who is next.”

Employee one: “Yes it does. And another thing – the procedures you’ve got us using now don’t make sense at all. I now have to speak to three people instead of one and get them all to sign off on the purchase order before I can do anything.”

Manager: “Any other concerns?”

All: Silence.

Manager: “Thanks for telling me honestly how you feel, I appreciate that and I have been listening to you. As I see it, you are upset that friends of yours lost their jobs and that you have had to take on their work. Jackie, you are also frustrated about what you perceive as a convoluted accounting procedure, is that right? Have I summarised the problems accurately?”

All: Nods.

Manager:  “OK, well let me take the time to discuss my thoughts with you. I obviously can’t go into detail about Julie and Emma’s situations, other than to say that the decisions we took were purely about the work roles and not the people. I agree with you that Julie and Emma are nice women. However, as I hope you appreciate, it would be inappropriate of me to talk in detail about either of them with the rest of the team.

“What I can say is that we’re in a tough economy right now and we have to make some tough decisions. We spent a lot of time assessing the situation and the plain fact of the matter was that a significant proportion of the work Emma and Julie were doing was already being duplicated elsewhere, some in our own department and some across the company.

“As businessmen and women, we have to look at the bottom line; we owe it to the company, our customers and to our workforce to be as efficient as possible. The decisions we made and I instigated were related to that.

“I understand that it has passed a little bit more work onto some of you; I don’t believe any one person is taking on those jobs wholesale, however, because there is no need for that. What work wasn’t already being duplicated has been spread around the rest of the team. I’m very happy for us to discuss exactly what work is now being done by whom to make sure no-one is taking on more than they need to, but again, I say that we are in a tough economy and we must all pull together for the good of the company.

“Now Jackie, I can understand your frustration regarding needing three people from across the company to sign off on new purchases. On the face of it, it does sound inefficient.

“I can tell you that we instigated that procedure to stop waste after we discovered that different departments were spending a considerable amount of money buying in the same products. There was no communication between us and money was simply being flushed down the pan. That said, you are right to bring it up.

“I’d love to talk to you to get your ideas on how we can effectively streamline the situation without incurring the same problems as before. Can we get together next week to discuss it?”


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