Each week, Inc. staff writer Nadine Heintz (Miss Management) will help you tackle office etiquette problems both big and small.
Dear Miss Management,
Please help. I have a subordinate who is a busybody and a gossip. We work with ten other employees (all males) and every hour or so I am given an update on what other employees haven’t done, what customers are doing, what our boss is doing etc. When it is not about our co-workers, it is about her family members or employees at her side job. It goes on and on. I try to ignore her, but she starts sulking. Once I open my ears to her for even the slightest conversation, the floodgates are open and the gossip starts from 9 am until the moment she leaves. As her superior, I am in a precarious situation. I cannot fire her because she gossips. I try to show her that gossip is not accepted by not participating but it does not seem to help. How can I tactfully and legally ask her to desist?
At My Wit's End
A little office gossip is understandable, but hourly updates? Come on. It sounds like your gossipy underling needs more work to do. You should probably reevaluate her workload and assign new tasks that will keep her busy working, not chatting. Other than that, consider taking a direct approach. The next time your busy-body subordinate approaches you with a complaint about your boss, for instance, ask her if she plans to do anything about it. Tell her that you're not interested in hearing her complain about problems unless she also has solutions to offer. If she sulks, too bad. After all, you're her boss, not her friend.
If you're reluctant to confront her directly, you might want to talk to your superiors about creating a company-wide "no gossip" policy. This may seem like an extreme measure if she's the only staffer with the bad habit, but something tells me your coworkers will welcome the policy with open arms. Keep in mind, however, that there is a difference between personal gossip and business-related tidbits. Information about a customer or a frequently tardy employee, for instance, could prove useful to managers. Still, your co-worker is clearly out of control. As her boss, it's your duty to reign her in.
Have a dilemma for Miss Management? Send her an e-mail and check back here Tuesdays for the answer.