Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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How to Deal With & Prevent Office Gossip

You may think that gossip is the exclusive domain of teenagers and reality TV, but gossip, when it exists at the workplace, can create a toxic work environment. As a manager, dealing with workplace negativity is part of the job description, but gossip can take negativity to a whole new level. Allowing gossip to flourish unchecked can impact productivity, morale, employee engagement and retention. In some cases gossip can even lead to liability issues.

Tips for dealing with negative office gossip

  1. Stop the negative gossip on a personal level. Identify the gossiper(s) and set up a meeting “behind closed doors”. If there is more than one gossiper, set up individual meetings. Allow the employee(s) to explain their side of the story and discern if there are any underlying issues that need to be dealt with. Make the employee aware of the negative impact of their actions and clearly delineate the consequences if this behaviour continues (e.g. written warning).
  2. Meet with your entire team. Call a staff meeting to discuss negative gossip in the workplace and the impact that it has. Open the lines of communication and encourage your employees to feel free to bring their concerns to management instead of starting rumours without basis in fact. If necessary, introduce a policy that makes it clear that negative gossip will not be tolerated and speaks to the consequences of this behaviour.
  3. Encourage positive gossip. Yes, gossip can also be positive. Sharing individual and team wins can reinforce a strong team bond and improve morale. Studies have shown that very often employees are more motivated by professional recognition than money. Take some time at every staff meeting to share positive gossip stories. Create an achievement wall where employee accomplishments can be posted. Highlight an Employee of the Month. Keep the conversation positive and focused on the successes.
  4. Be a role model. You have to “walk the walk” and “talk the talk”. Model the behaviour that you want to see in others. Spread positive gossip.

How to prevent negative office gossip

While it may be impossible to completely eradicate gossip at work or water cooler talk, the key to addressing negative work gossip is Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! Frequently, negative office gossip occurs as a result of poor internal communication. Change in the workplace often breeds fear and fear breeds negative office gossip. Open the channels of communication. Create a safe environment for people to express concerns, ask questions and make suggestions. Remove any reasons for negative gossip.

Is your workplace an environment that communicates well and inspires positive gossip?


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Tips to Reducing Workplace Bullying

stop-bullyingOn February 22, Canadians will celebrate Pink Shirt Day, a day to raise awareness about the issue of bullying in our schools, workplaces and homes. The non-profit organization CKNW encourages people to wear pink on this day to symbolize the end of bullying. This day of recognition started in Nova Scotia after a young boy was bullied for wearing pink to school, and after seeing this, class members who opposed this kind of bullying sported pink shirts.

While events related to Pink Shirt Day are often highlighted in schools, where bullying is a major problem, workplaces are also encouraged to participate. This is due to the fact that while bullying is more common in children and young adults, it can follow us to our workplaces as well.

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. Additionally, this abusive conduct is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating. In 2017, this kind of behaviour is not limited to face-to-face encounters. Cyber bullying can also significantly impact an employee’s mental health, and is often kept under the radar.

As an Employer:

Staff look to you to ensure they are being treated fairly and are not experiencing any kind of mistreatment. That being said, dealing with a workplace bully can be difficult. Here are my tips on how to address workplace bullying in your organization:

  1. Hold bullies accountable. If someone from your team approaches you about an issue with a co-worker or boss, make sure you speak to the person in question to get his or her side of the story. Talking to someone about their bully-like behaviour can be awkward, but you owe it to your employees who are being impacted by this person’s conduct.
  1. Have a plan in place. If someone has received a few complaints about their bully-like behaviour, it’s important to have some disciplinary measures in place to ensure bullying in any form stops immediately. After confronting a bully about their behaviour, it may be determined that this situation is a result of conflict between two co-workers, in which case mediation would be helpful. If a bully’s behaviour remains an issue, warnings may not be enough. Consult your EAP for support in this area before probation or termination results.
  1. Keep your eye out for inappropriate conduct. As a manager in the workplace, don’t just wait for someone to come to you with an issue. Make sure to be on the lookout for any kind of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. If you notice someone is abusing an employee or co-worker in any way, make a point to sit down with him or her to discuss their behaviour. Victims will often shy away from reporting bullying incidents out of fear of repercussion to them. If you are “in the loop” on what’s going on in the office, you can save a possible victim from the embarrassment of reporting it higher in the organization.
  1. Promote awareness. Make and post anti-bullying posters, wear pink t-shirts, host lunch and learns about anti-bullying. Raising awareness about this issue can help generate productive conversations and break down the stigma of workplace bullying. 

As an Employee:

  1. Try to speak to the bully and let them know how what they are doing is affecting you. Share with them that what they are doing is not appropriate behaviour.
  1. Speak to a boss or manager about your situation. If you begin to notice that your workplace culture enables this kind of abusive attitude, speak to a manager. Employees should not be afraid to come to work, and in order for employees to work effectively, they need to feel comfortable and safe in the workplace environment. Alerting a senior staff member to the situation can allow them to take measures to prevent this from happening in the workplace.

What are you doing in your office to help recognize anti-bullying?


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See The Signs – Recognizing Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

mental-healthJust a few weeks ago at a high school outside of Toronto, a fourteen-year-old girl stabbed and injured five students and two staff members. As a result, there has been more dialogue about bullying, mental illness and mental health, as we are reminded of the importance and seriousness of attending to mental illness in the workplace.

Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Stigma surrounding mental illness is widespread, often flying under the radar in the workplace because employees tend to suffer in silence – afraid to risk their careers by speaking out and employers are afraid to ask. Recognizing the signs can be crucial to preventing serious situations from developing, and ensuring supports are in place.

Being able to recognize when your employees are distressed, and addressing these concerns, can help to break down the stigma and allow for communication between you and your staff. Let me share with you some tips on recognizing the symptoms of a possible mental health issue with an employee:

  • Missed deadlines
  • Reduced productivity
  • Reduced quality of work
  • Absent or late more frequently
  • Relationship issues or conflicts with co-workers
  • Withdrawal or reduced participation
  • Anxiety, fearfulness, or loss of confidence

Each of these signs alone does not necessarily indicate the presence of an illness, but each can begin a conversation to show your employee, as their employer, that you are supportive and accommodating, especially if performance is suffering. Employees are more likely to ask for help from their employer when you provide them with a caring environment and the probability of their success will increase as well.

Social media can be helpful in providing insight, as the young woman’s blog was her cry for help in the case of the Dunbarton High School stabbing. It is crucial for an organization to be trained and able to identify the signs of an employee who may be in danger of hurting themselves and/or others due to their mental state.

Early recognition of mental health problems, consultation for your supervisors with your EAP, referring employees with the above symptoms to the EAP for assessment, treatment and support, will all help your employees receive the support they require to return to work and/or better manager their job.

The bottom line here is that when your organization creates a mentally healthy work environment for your employees, it allows them to achieve and maintain success.


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“It Never Happens Here”: Workplace Bullying

harper-titleThe first thing one thinks of when hearing the term bullying is schoolyards or cyber bullying, but when these bullies grow up, they often become bullies in another environment: the workplace.

The statistics are alarming – 40% of Canadian employees have experienced one or more acts of workplace bullying at least once a week for the last six months; a staggering 74% of employees have been bullied at some time in the workplace, and 75% of employees that have been bullied leave their workplace! The result of this bullying can have a devastating impact on your workforce with decreases in productivity, an increase in employee turnover, an increase in absenteeism, an increase in health issues ranging from depression to harming oneself or others, an increase in legal costs, workers compensation, or management time, and a decrease in company morale.

Besides the stigma of workplace bullying, many employees are hesitant to report it to their HR departments because they might be concerned of the repercussions, or of being labelled a whistleblower, or of their perpetrator, particularly when their manager is involved, making things even worse for them at work.

Although we are more likely to laugh off an insult or comment at work or to treat it as a personality trait (particularly when a boss or manager is verbally offensive to you at work) but the fact is, it is bullying and it won’t stop until you do something about it. It seems there is a very fine line between a strong management style and bullying, but if you are feeling repeatedly mistreated, then chances are you are being bullied.

Employers often treat bullying and harassment as one and the same, however they are different: workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable and unwelcome behaviour directed towards an employee or group of employees that creates a risk to health and safety. Workplace harassment is unwanted behaviour that offends, humiliates or intimidates a person, and targets them on the basis of a characteristic such as gender, race or ethnicity.

I have found that in most cases employees know when they are in a bullying situation, but what they don’t know is what to do about it that is safe and effective. I have outlined below a few approaches to reduce workplace bullying at your organization:

  1. Create a protective environment for employees that will foster positive and respectful relationships.
  2. Employees need to feel safe at work. Develop an internal anti-bullying workshop to create awareness of the issue, teach people social and emotional skills, post applicable company policies in visible areas, and develop team-building exercises.
  3. Provide support (third party EAP counselling) to those who may be affected by workplace bullying and take active steps to stop it from occurring again.
  4. Create a bullying response process to ensure everyone in the organization responds in an appropriate way when they see bullying or conflict occurring.
  5. Provide intervention and prevention programs.
  6. Create anti-bullying policies and procedures.

When is bullying acceptable? Never. Whether it is in the schoolyard, online, or at work, there is no situation in which an individual should be made to feel harassed, ridiculed or inferior. Make sure your organization does the right thing and takes actions towards creating a safe and collaborative environment.

If you have an anti-bullying policy at work, does it go far enough in protecting your employees? If there isn’t one in place, do you know what steps to take towards implementing an anti-bullying policy? I look forward to a lively discussion on this topic.