Each week, Inc. staff writer Nadine Heintz (Miss Management) will help you tackle office etiquette problems both big and small.
I work in a small office where everyone plays multiple roles. The Office
Manager / HR Manager is on my list. As an HR Manager, I believe she should
be practicing "confidentiality." Not only is she poking her nosey-nose in
where it doesn't belong, she then goes and tells the entire office. For
example, when I was having problems with a co-worker and went to the HR
Manager, within 2 days it was broadcast to the rest of the office and
people were coming and asking me about it. I find this incredibly
unprofessional and unethical. Unfortunately, I don't think she realizes
this. As a department manager myself, I would like to speak to her
directly about this, but my concern is that she is also the Exec. Assistant
to the Owner and I don't want to step on any toes. Do I go to the owner
with this, thus "getting her in trouble?" I fear this, too, will be
broadcast throughout the office and I don't want it coming back to my door.
Sure, expecting employees to wear many hats is par for the course at growing companies. But the role of HR manager shouldn't be handed to just anyone. Good HR is key to keeping employees happy and productive. Unfortunately, your gossipy office manager/HR manager doesn't seem cut out for the task. In fact, she seems to have exacerbated your problems with your co-worker tenfold. If she didn't realize that your conversation was confidential, she's obviously clueless, and the chances of her suddenly seeing the light are probably slim at best. For the sake of the business, you must go to the owner.
If you use the right approach, you can do so without looking like a tattletale. First, make sure there's no other way people could have found out about the problems with your coworker. Perhaps the HR person addressed him or her and then told everyone? If you're sure it was nosey-nose, or if she has a bad track record, e-mail your company's owner and request a few minutes of his or her time. Make sure that you're calm and collected before walking into the meeting. Then, simply state the facts of the case: You told your HR manager something in confidence, and, before you knew it, everyone in the office was asking you about it. Remember to stay calm.
If the company's owner has any sense at all, the HR manager will either be reassigned or reprimanded severely and set straight. She'll probably tell everyone about it, but never you mind.† Everybody's talking about you anyway, so you don't have much to lose. Besides, something tells me that your coworkers will be grateful that someone finally had the nerve to silence Miss Loose Lips.
Have a dilemma for Miss Management? Send her an e-mail and check back here Tuesdays for the answer.