When you begin your startup, you often do so with friends. These are people you've known for years, and so your relationship can often seem casual. And, because, in casual friendships, gossip happens, it can invade the workplace. Here's a letter from someone on the receiving end of the gossip:
About 2-3 times a week, my boss will pull me into his office for very intense conversations about other co-workers. Sometimes my boss will speak horribly about the co-worker, and then try to rope me in ("What do you think, Trollina? Do you think X is incompetent/hysterical?"). Sometimes he'll rehash past dramas/gossip, and talk about how glad he is are that Yis gone. I have no choice but to remain neutral in the moment, shrugging or saying "I don't know" when he tries to corral me into talking bad about someone.
I realize the boss isn't asking the question, but my advice is going to go to the boss. Do you realize how damaging these "chats" are? You may have picked a BFF for the office, but bosses should have no friends at work.
I realize this is an unpopular position in the startup world. We're all friends here! We all work as a team! Yay, teamwork! But, the reality is you need to be in a position to not only hire, but also fire, discipline, promote, mentor, and pass people over for promotion. When you get caught up in the drama and concerned about the little things, you lose perspective on the things that matter, like the business. Instead you end up making decisions on who you like best rather than who is best for the job.
Bosses should be pleasant and kind, and concerned about the welfare of their staff, but the type of friend that you gossip with needs to be someone outside the office. (Although, in reality, you should't be gossiping about anyone.) When you cross that line, you not only set up an unpleasant environment, you may end up setting up an illegal one.
How? Well, we tend to pick friends who are like us. Often our best friends are the same race, gender and nationality as ourselves. Which means, when you make friends at the office you're likely excluding people who don't share those attributes, which means you're favoring people who do. Can you see how this could lead you down a lawsuit path? While it's not illegal to promote someone because she's your best friend, when you've promoted your two best friends and overlooked a third employee of a different race, who is a measurably better worker, the courts are likely to conclude you're a racist. Good luck convincing them you're just a bad manager who favors friends.
When should you discuss your employees? When you're talking about work and work performance. Who should you be discussing this with? Your HR manager, if you have one, and the person's direct supervisor. Occasionally you may want to ask someone else's opinion about an employee's performance. But that question should be phrased as follows: "Can you tell me about how Jane is doing with the new software?" Not, "So, Jane totally stinks with the new software, doesn't she? What a loser!"
For things that aren't as straightforward as new software, you'll need to ensure confidentiality. Like this: "Can you tell me how Jane is handling the pressure in her new job? Everything you tell me will be kept confidential." You really need to mean the confidential part.
When instead, you act like this boss does, your employees won't improve, and your business won't either. There is no one to blame but yourself. So, knock off the gossip in the office. Be the boss, not the leader of a clique.
If you've had (or been) a bad boss, send me an email at EvilHRLady@gmail.com.