How to Deal With Backbiting at Work
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Backstabbing, gossiping employees are a problem in workplaces all over the world. Even if you're not the target, you might not like hearing mean-spirited jokes about your co-workers or the toxic environment these comments create. Keeping silent is sometimes the simplest way to deal with it, but the more authority you have, the more important it is to speak up.
If you don't like backbiting at work, don't join in. Don't contribute any negative stories, and don't respond to anyone else's hints that he has gossip to share. This is particularly important if you're a manager, as employees take cues from you as to what's acceptable behavior. Be careful what you share about yourself, too. Talking about the wild party you went to last weekend could make you the new topic of unpleasant rumors.
If backbiting employees consistently try to involve you, you might have to speak up. Rather than engage someone in a heated argument, which will only add fuel to the fire, maintain an even and professional tone. For example, if you are a staff employee rather than a manager you might say something simple like, "I don't want to talk about Joan while she's not here." This gives backbiters less to work with. If you're a manager, you're in a position to be more direct. Tell the backbiters privately that their behavior is unacceptable and needs to stop, or it will negatively reflect on their performance review down the road.
Have a Policy
Managers can, and probably should, set policies to rein in the negative gossip and behavior. If you're a manager, hold a meeting with your team to discuss your company's rules governing workplace gossip and the standards you expect team members to uphold. You don't have to ban personal stories or gossip outright. Just draw the line at the stories that hurt people rather than bringing them together. If the employee handbook already covers gossip, bring that up. If not, it's an issue you might want to raise with higher management and human resources.
When It's Harassment
If backbiting reaches the level of sexual harassment or discrimination, it's a serious legal issue. For example, sexually explicit gossip or demeaning comments about female coworkers could qualify as harassment. If you're the victim, the first step is to tell the gossips to stop. If the harassment continues, report them to your superiors or the HR department, making sure you follow company protocols. If you're a manager, it's important to respond promptly to complaints or the company could be vulnerable to a lawsuit.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.