I am going to use the following names in this scenario: SUPERVISOR: John, EMPLOYEE: Jane

Jane asked John if he had said anything about her to another employee. He said he did not. He asked Jane who told him that. Jane refuses to tell him who. Jane stated that his word is good enough for her. John sends me (HR) a written statement and demands an investigation on why employees are gossiping about him.

My initial thought is “What does he want me to do? Take Jane into an interrogation room and threaten her if she doesn’t give me the names?” I think John should stop whining and know that employees will sometimes talk about you especially if you are a supervisor. If I knew which employees it was, maybe I would talk to them and tell them not to talk about people. But, I don’t even have names.

What advice do you have on how to handle this supervisor? Also, do you have any advice on what would be proper if I DID have names?

Oh blech. Here we are in 7th grade all over again. A manager wants an investigation about why employees are gossiping about him? Seriously. Tell him that it would be worth investigating if employees weren’t gossiping about him.

And I’m concerned about my spelling of gossiping. It looks funny and I think it should have two ps. But it doesn’t; it only has one. Weird.

For the record, I’m on Jane’s side here. Instead of engaging in the gossip herself, she went to the supposed source and asked for clarification. She is also trying to end the drama right now by not tattling on whoever said whatever. I usually advise people to ask people directly if they want to know what someone thinks. Good for Jane.

Now, as your John. I have a strong suspicion that he lied to Jane. I bet he has been talking about her and now he’s all freaked out because one of the people he “trusted” has now blabbed, but he’s blabbed to so many people that he has no idea who to yell at. (No idea at whom to yell? It’s grammar day here at EHRL!)

But, even if he didn’t, his reaction is over the top. He doesn’t know his people. He doesn’t trust his people. He’s blown up what could easily have been a misunderstanding to a full fledged witch hunt. This is not how to manage people.

I would ask him what he hopes to achieve by an investigation. He, of course, wants to find out WHO IS GOSSIPING ABOUT HIM. Ask him why. What does he intend to do with that information? Fire the person? Because most companies would not say this is a fireable offense. (Fireable=not a word according to firefox.) Point out that if gossip was truly a problem in his group, he’d know who the instigator was, without any investigation. Those things usually come to light pretty quickly.

Instead, suggest that he let this go. (I know, not likely to happen.) Suggest it again. Congratulate him for being open enough that Jane felt comfortable coming to him directly. Suggest regular staff and 1:1 meetings if he’s not having them. These will help people be aware of what is going on and feel more included. This will also allow him to figure out problems and fix them. Tell him that you will be happy to coach him through this process. Because you need to.

Now, this assumes Jane isn’t an attention seeking whacko. Because if she is, this is the wrong answer. Heh.

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15 thoughts on “He said that…

  1. Don't these people have WORK to do? It seems to me that this kind of nonsense goes on everywhere.

    And, here I am, having a hard time finding a job.

    FYI hiring people, there are many of us competent employees out there who will do their job and not try to create "drama" in the workplace.


  2. "Whom" is correct. It's a fading usage, but it's correct.

    Here I am, too, Charles, having a terrible time finding a job. I have worked in some gossipy places and hate workplace drama. What a productivity killer.

  3. Sybil, that's an awesome answer.

    Charles and Jessified, this is why I tell managers to fire the slacker types. There are (especially right now) better people out there.

  4. OK bear with me (bare? ack, ehrl is contagious). I find myself curious to know what the general topic of this gossip is; i.e. is it truly gossip as in "of the non-work related" variety or was this something that John supposedly said something of a faux-pas in and of itself? And I find myself wondering if the HR person who finds themselves hall monitor knows the answer to this question.

    The only reason I wonder is because of how direct Jane was in the approach of "ask directly, limit drama upon a negative answer," and how this contrasts with John's, "wah, teacher he's poking me." If John was crossing a line with his alleged remark — say something that could be ruled as harassment or griping about a problem in Jane's work to Jane's co-workers instead of addressing it appropriately — he could find that his little witchhunt gets him disciplined instead of the person who spread the secret.

    Or maybe I spent too long writing training guides today and I've rotted my brain.

  5. I was always told it is none of your business what other people think of you. You can do anything about it. You can't change it. Why stress over it?

  6. What is the answer if Jane is an attention seeking whacko who everyone is avoiding like the plague, expects all coworkers to be best friends, and is possibly imbalanced due to a family and medical traumas. I am not kidding…

  7. John …get real and pull up your big boy pants. Focus on being a great manager. Can't stop the gossip so make sure you're a great role model…then gossip becomes good marketing of your reputation!

  8. John is an idiot and a bad manager. What a waste of time. I like JulietFish's words of wisdom. Why worry about what others think when you can't do anything about it? John is still an idiot.

    As for The Lab Rat's comments, I agree, but how many managers actually get disciplined? Even if they do discipline the manager, the turmoil of what led up to it can rip apart the workplace and waste time and money.

  9. LOL I just got home from work and reading this was just like a slice of my daily HR life!

    I've found in the health organisation that I work in that this scenario is quite common.

    It's good advice you've given to question the Manager over what he wants out of the situation. Sometimes these are good opportunities to reinforce what the organisation's expectation is of Managers, as sadly some people seem to be unclear on this.

    I often tell people that sometimes they need to model the behaviour they seek in their employees and talk about the organisation's values and how the Manager can look at embedding them in the team in a general sense.

  10. Just to give everyone an update (I am the original poster), I'm going to talk to "John" tomorrow afternoon.

    What great feedback! I am fairly new to HR and couldn't believe it when he DEMANDED an investigation about something so petty, so I wasn't sure how to proceed. My initial thought was "Darn, I'm not skilled in interrogation, although I have watched some law shows. I don't even have an interrogation room."

    I would never bring something like this to HR (it reminds me of when I was a child and told my mom "he's touching me!" of my brother in the car) and just couldn't fathom what he wanted with the information. So, I'll let everyone know how it goes.

  11. Please do Patti. Having had a ton of terrible managers in life, my knee jerk reaction (ouch my shins) to the story is that John only wants an investigation because whatever it was that he supposedly said was wildly inappropriate for work. Just from reading it, my instinct is that he's trying to head off trouble that he SHOULD be in. Of course, it could shake out many other ways.

  12. First, some background:
    This all occured when 2 employees had gotten in a verbal confrontation. There was an investigation and I went through all of the normal procedures.

    The day of the incident, John saw one of the employees crying (we'll call them Employee A) and asked them what was wrong. Another supervisor saw from the window that the employee was crying and when they left, asked John what had occurred.

    Now to present:
    I spoke to John. John did speak to another supervisor about Jane, but just to state that she had a confrontation with another employee (Employee A) and was a upset by it. He stated that he didn't say one way or the other who he thought was right because he wasn't there.

    He stated that he was upset with Jane because she actually went to others before she came to him. Jane's side of it is that she went to John first.

    He stated that he wanted to put a stop to Jane gossipping as well as other employees and he figured the way to do that was to tell her he would go to HR. He thought this would make her think twice about saying things behind his back instead of checking with him first. When he got in the meeting with me and I let him know that I would not investigate and find out WHO Jane was talking to (and was talking to her), he was ok with it.

    I did let John know that especially since he is in a position of authority that others will speak about him. I let him know that I am always open to hear what he has to say and also it is important that he has open communication with his team members. I let him know that he is valued and that I know it is upsetting when someone finds out that others are talking about them.

    John was worried that when his team members talk about him, that it would ruin his reputation to management. He stated that he had seen this happen in the past with a previous company. I let him know that if management was ever in a position that they felt they needed to question him about a particular incident, they would. This, however, was not an incident where that was the case and he was actually the one that brought it to our attention.

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