Unfortunately, whilst we were led to believe as we grew up childish behaviour such as talking behind people’s backs would get less and less and whilst we also believed that it certainly wouldn’t happen, let alone be tolerated, in the workplace – we were wrong!
However, I don’t believe we should have been wrong. Talking behind people’s back in a negative manner or ‘bitching’ is, in my opinion, one of the most unprofessional things you can do – it proves immaturity, an inability to face up to difficult situations (important in many businesses), a lack of backbone or morals, and an inability to work with others (important in all businesses), as well as proving yourself to be untrustworthy.
Now, I don’t just mean your standard vent “ugh, Mr X said he’d get something to me by 3pm and it’s now 5pm and he’s still not done it.” We all get the pressures of tight deadlines and those little roadblocks that get in our way. That is likely to cause frustration and understandable to have a minute to vent. However, saying “Ugh, Mr X said he’d get something to me by 3pm and it’s now 5pm and he’s still not done it – he’s a lazy worker and rarely completes any project on time.” That is a line crossed.
Why? Because you’ve moved away from the base issue, Mr X has failed to meet an agreed deadline and caused undue stress, and moved towards personal and professional slander “he’s a lazy worker” “he rarely completes any project on time”.
If you feel that a worker is proving to be lazy, consistently missing deadlines, or doesn’t work well with you these things should be addressed to either:
- your line manager for them to bring up in a more official manner
- their line manager for them to address
- Or it could well be a conversation between you and Mr X to find out why he missed the deadline.
However, it should never be a conversation with anyone else and should be 100% confidential, otherwise we do move towards slander.
Slander (or, defamation) is the action or crime of making a false, spoken statement that can be damaging to a person’s reputation (not to be confused with libel, which is a written statement).
Unfortunately, here is where the issue lays – the word ‘false’. The problem with bitching is that it is very difficult to prove, firstly, that it has even been said and can become a case of ‘he said, she said’ so to prove truthfulness is difficult. Secondly, in its context here, what they’re saying must be false and it can be very difficult to prove that it is not true when it comes to personal opinions. It is easier to disprove statements made in the media such as “Mr X stabbed and murdered Mrs X” when actually, the Court has ruled he did not. But to disprove ‘“Mr X is a lazy worker” says Colleague 1’ is much harder. So, unfortunately, it is understandable why – often – cases of workplace bitching go unpunished.
However, in cases where people have admitted wrong doing or where clear evidence can be given then there is, I believe, no reason this should not be a serious offence. As I mentioned above, it shows many negative traits that are not desirable among your employees, however what it also does is put someone’s personal and professional reputation into disrepute. By stating to colleagues that Mr X is ‘lazy’ it creates a reputation for him among others, whether conscious or not, that next time he misses a deadline, rather than speaking to Mr X and getting to the route of the problem, as should be expected, they will make an assumption that it is because he is lazy, because that’s what Colleague 1 said.
photo credit to Keep Calm o’ Matic
This is a problem not just for Mr X and his personal and professional reputation but also for the colleague that made the assumption and for the business, because it means that if Mr X is, for instance, struggling with his workload, having personal problems that are affecting his work life or is poorly trained, these issues are not being found out and addressed so they continue. Mr X’s reputation can then begin to precede him to the point it is likely he will move on from the job, therefore the business loses a possibly very valuable employee and incurs costs for recruitment, or he will remain unhappy, demotivated and disenfranchised.
This can also end up with negative effects on the business as it is likely Mr X will begin to dislike his job and complain about it externally, or even internally, and thus we begin a vicious cycle of bitching that can lead to business reputation damage.
So, not only has this person committed slander, professionally and personally, not only have they proven themselves to be an untrustworthy employee who doesn’t work well with others or solve difficult situations, they have also put the business in danger of reputational damage. As this article from The Telegraph states, gross misconduct, which is a sackable offence, is “conduct which brings or is likely to bring the business into disrepute.”
Conduct, such as slanderous behaviour, as I have shown, can well bring the business into disrepute. I believe we should begin to amend this to ‘conduct which brings or is likely to bring the business, its colleagues, associates or third parties into disrepute’ – because at the end of the day those we work with, for and beside reflect on a businesses reputation as much as the business itself and it is time we reflect that in our misconduct policies.
Furthermore, it is also to be considered workplace bullying – this statement by Gov.UK is a fine example of how bitching about someone on a personal level should be considered workplace bullying.
Bullying and harassment is behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended. Harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.
Examples of bullying or harassing behaviour include:
- spreading malicious rumours
- unfair treatment
- picking on someone
- regularly undermining a competent worker
- denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities
Now, I don’t know about you, but any time I have had people speak behind my back I have felt very offended, so a massive tick there. It also makes the person bitched about feel very uncomfortable and this can lead to feeling intimidated, for instance, if the person bitching is in a higher position or has been in the company longer. It can also make other colleagues feels uncomfortable, for instance those that work closely with Mr X or like him. Furthermore, spreading malicious rumours gets a big tick – rumour is defined as ‘circulating a story or report of uncertain or doubtful truth.’ therefore, going hand-in-hand with my slander argument.
Whilst I appreciate it can be hard to prove and there are many intricacies, I believe if someone admits to bitching in the workplace or there is clear evidence of wrongdoing there is no reason that this should not be considered a warning offence, if nothing else. We don’t tolerate it among our schools, so why our workplaces? It’s time to make a change.