One of my clients, a manager in a healthcare-billing firm, recently shared with me her distress about how often her employees complain about their coworkers. She said they are constantly coming into her office and voicing complaints such as:
"Sheila was 10
minutes late again."
"Dorothy is violating the dress code. Her midriff is showing."
"Sam is using his personal days for vacation instead of their intended purpose."
"Why do I always have to fix Jim's mistakes? It's not fair!"
"Jan took two bagels from the snack room and there were none left for me."
When employees complain about each other, it lowers morale and productivity. Once this type of complaining starts, it's difficult to stop. Mary complains about Jim. Jim complains about Mary. And then, Mary complains more about Jim. This is wasted time and energy. It is immature behavior that needs to be stopped.
Employees need to focus on their work and furthering the goals of the organization, not on the behavior of their co-workers. That's the job of supervisors and managers.
Why is this such a common occurrence in organizations? Are all employees busybodies? I believe there are several reasons:
Employees resent work rules. They may be necessary, but they are a burden and restrict employee freedom. They take out their resentment by complaining about each other.
Some employees are brownnosers. They think that by reporting on others, they will ingratiate themselves with their boss.
Other employees are just obsessed with rules and find it upsetting when others don't take them as seriously as they do.
Employees mistakenly believe that everyone should be treated exactly the same. They believe that no one should receive special privileges or be "above the law." Yet they each believe that exceptions should be made for them when needed.
WHAT TO DO
- Don't get sucked in
to this destructive dynamic.
The worst thing you can do is validate busybodies by thanking them for being a tattletale and taking immediate action against the transgressor.
- Make it clear that
complaining about other employees is inappropriate.
Politely say to the busybody that it is not necessary or appropriate for them to be monitoring or reporting on other employees unless there is a good work-related reason, someone's safety is at risk, or laws are being broken.
- Recommend employees
speak directly with their coworkers
Instead of bringing trivial complaints to supervisors, encourage employees to address their concerns directly with their coworkers.
- Tell employees that
they will be treated fairly, but not equally.
Do you treat your 17-year old son exactly the same way you treat your 14-year old daughter? Of course not! They have different responsibilities and are afforded different privileges.
When employees complain that, "it's not fair that Suzie gets to leave early to pick up her child from daycare while they must stay late," tell them that not everyone is, or will be, treated exactly the same. Employees will be treated fairly but as unique individuals with specific capabilities and needs.
- Make it clear that
exceptions will be made.
Employees often complain about exceptions that are made for other people. But, they are very appreciative when they are made for them.
Tell employees that management reserves the right to make exceptions they deem warranted for any employee, including them. For example, good performers will be treated differently than poor performers, employees with extenuating family circumstances will be afforded special considerations if needed, and new employees will be given more slack than experienced employees.
- Throw out the
Policy and procedure manuals as thick as the Manhattan yellow pages cause more problems than they solve. Employees learn to become Philadelphia lawyers trying to beat the rules and focusing too much attention on them. Instead, provide managers general guidelines and give them the freedom and flexibility to treat people as adults rather than children.
- Use the performance
appraisal system to your advantage
Rate employees on "teamwork." This is where employees can be rated poorly if they are constantly tattling about on coworkers.
- Establish a norm that
there will be no gossip in the organization.
Recognizing how destructive this dynamic can be, one of my clients has actually made this one of its stated corporate values. There is to be no gossiping in the organization about other employees. Each employee is held accountable for making certain they adhere to this organizational value.
- Make sure you serve
as a role model.
It is important that managers avoid tattling and gossiping about employees even among fellow managers. If they do, it will undoubtedly be mirrored throughout the organization.
Employees should be discouraged from reporting company rule violations of other employees. That's the job of management. If employees are constantly policing each other, teamwork and morale will suffer. Tactfully and diplomatically tell the busybodies to mind their own business.