Workplace drama is awful. It feels like grammar school: there are cliques, whispers, and sometimes blatant bullying. It seems like there’s no end to the drama.
And it’s not just terrible for the people involved. More so than other issues, workplace conflict brings everyone down from the boss to the most junior employees.
As a business owner, there are some clear steps you can take to minimize drama from big fights to petty gossip. It starts at the beginning — when you hire employees — and continues with your management style as a boss.
The good news is that more than anyone else, you have the power to make a positive change:
Consider Civility During the Hiring Process
When business owners make hiring decisions, they often consider the experience and skills of the employee above their personality. But personal characteristics can be a predictor of job success — and the clearest indicator they’ll create drama.
During the hiring process, ask questions that help clarify someone’s level of civility at work. Talk to references about the candidate’s ability to collaborate and support others. Here are some sample questions that management expert Christine Porath suggests you consider:
For the candidate:
- What would your past employers say about you? Please include positive and negative.
- Which parts of yourself would you most like to improve?
- Describe a time that you failed. What did you learn from the situation?
- What kind of people do you struggle most to work with? How do you manage that?
For the reference:
- Is the candidate a team player?
- How does he or she respond to authority figures?
- Does this person seem emotionally intelligent, picking up on cues?
Take note of whether candidates blame other people their shortcomings, speak negatively of others, and seems to overvalue their contributions. These questions help clarify if people value generosity and cooperation in their relationships with other employees or if they are likely to create drama in the workplace.
Because even if they’re effective at their jobs, toxic workers actually have twice the impact on the bottom line as their positive counterparts — in a negative way. They often spread their behavior, too, undermining the success of other employees and often causing high turnover.
Model Ideal Behavior
A business owner can set a clear precedent for staff by modeling ideal behavior. Instead of getting caught up in employee drama by rolling your eyes or engaging with less-than-ideal behavior, stay above the fray.
Always treat people with respect and tolerance while maintaining clear boundaries about what’s acceptable in the workplace. Here are a few behaviors that workers often emulate in their bosses — avoid them at all costs!
- Gossiping about other workers
- Favoritism in the workplace
- Withholding valuable information
- Shaming in front of the group
- More negative than positive feedback
By avoiding these actions, you immediately raise the standard for the conduct of others in the workplace.
Create a Zero-Tolerance Policy for Bullying
Sometimes, workplace drama is rooted in a genuine issue: there’s one toxic employee that’s picking on others or snide, hurtful comments making the rounds. In these cases, the issue can balloon, with multiple people pointing the finger.
The best way to handle this kind of escalation is to nip it in the bud immediately. The sooner you address an issue with an employee, the better. Likewise, be proactive by creating a statement on bullying in the workplace. Discuss it with staff, and post it in a visible place in the staff area or workroom.
Create a zero-tolerance policy for name-calling, cursing, or abusive behavior. If an employee exhibits one of those behaviors, fire them immediately. This action not only helps solve the issue by creating a safe environment, it also clarifies boundaries with staff members, ensuring that other people don’t copy the negative behavior.
Mediate with Clear Communication
Whether they have the training or not, most business owners end up mediating discussions or conflicts between workers. Given this de-facto role, it’s essential that leaders learn the best practices for moderating to diffuse drama rather contribute to it. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Try to establish the facts in advance. Was there something concrete that happened, or is this a “he said, she said” kind of situation?
- Ask that employees speak from their experience with “I” statements. For example, “I saw you mock me behind the register yesterday, and it hurt my feelings.”
- Practice active listening by using an even tone and nodding each employee speaks. Try to stay calm and relaxed.
- Consider the context. Consider and ask if it’s a one-time issue or long-time drama that’s been continual.
- Consider your role. Based on the conversation, is there anything you need to say or do? Do you need to speak one-on-one with the individual who caused the problem? Do you think one employee owe the other an apology?
The fifth step depends a lot on the intent of the person who started the drama. If it was malicious or seemingly intentional, a business owner needs to address it in a bigger way. Firmly state the unacceptability of the action and give a severe warning works — that works for most cases. As negativity can affect everyone in the workplace (especially other workers that witness it), the response of the employer is vital to ensuring a sound and happy workplace.
Putting a stop to workplace drama requires that you’re proactive. As hard as it is, with these simple steps, you create a more fulfilling and productive workplace while supporting hard-working employees. Do you have any other effective ideas to add to this list? If so, I would love to hear from you in the comments.