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  • Writer's pictureDenise Fleissner Ralston

Bullying at the Office

Loretta is being bullied. She is tired of office gossip and overhearing inappropriate comments being made about co-workers, bosses, and clients and wants it to stop. When she addresses the issue with co-workers, they whisper to each other that she is “out of touch.”

Loretta recognizes the gossiping is affecting productivity and office morale and expresses her concern to her supervisor. “What’s important to you about the way you do your job?” I ask Loretta during our first coaching session. “I want to do a good job but we’re all pressed for time. Everyone has too much work and not enough time, but we are expected to deliver our targets.” “So what do you need to make sure that happens?” I ask, probing. “People need to spend more time focused on tasks and less time gossiping about things that don’t matter.” She is visibly irritated.

As we continue to explore the unproductive nature of office gossip I realize a core value for Loretta is loyalty. When people gossip, Loretta experiences anguish. “If my co-workers are saying inappropriate things about co-workers and clients to me, what are they telling people that don’t work here?” Her concerns are valid, especially at a time in history when the acquisition of privacy information is a high value target.

Working with Loretta and her supervisor, the two team up to create an anonymous survey targeting the issue of office gossip, bullying, and inappropriate office etiquette. The result is astounding. Nearly eighty-five percent of the staff participating in the survey are aware of the gossip but feel if they don’t participate, they will be labeled, like Loretta. Armed with this new awareness, Loretta’s supervisor initiates a system of accountability.

Effective immediately, every employee will be assigned to a senior staff member who will mentor him or her on office protocol. Coaching services will be provided for mentors twice a month for three months to teach them how to simplify processes and establish a code of conduct that is easy to manage. In addition, weekly meetings will be set up with mentors and staff to discuss new procedures during the lunch hour and a free lunch will be provided.

One month after our initial conversation, team members are responding positively to the change. Initiating a code of conduct has heightened the awareness of client confidentiality and lessened the proverbial water cooler conversations. The mentoring program is a success and the administrative staff is learning to appreciate the importance of everyone’s role in the office. Civility and respect has been re-established and the quality of work has increased dramatically.

What adjustments do you need to make in order to thrive?

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