telling a new boss about an awful assistant, how managers can stop gossip, and more

It’s five short answers to five short questions. Here we go…

1. Should we tell our new boss about our terrible department assistant?

There are currently 3 people in my department — me, an excellent coworker, and our departmental assistant. Our department assistant is for the most part terrible: she refuses to answer phone calls, generally finds excuses not to complete tasks we give her, and often disappears for hours on long lunches or to hang out at other people’s desk. Our long-time boss was let go a month ago, so my excellent coworker and I are basically carrying the weight of the whole department, working longer hours than usual to keep up with the work. When our assistant claims she doesn’t have time to complete the projects we give her, I end up having to do them myself.

When our new boss begins, should my coworker or I warn her about our terrible departmental assistant? Our last boss had wanted to get rid of her, but never made any progress before she herself was let go. I can’t tell if it’s our assistant’s general bad attitude, or she’s not interested in the line of work, but honestly we would rather fire her and have someone else step in. Is it okay to warn the new boss, or should we let her discover this nightmare herself?

You should absolutely tell her. You don’t need to get into what your last boss was planning on doing but never did, but you should lay out the facts as they have affected you: The assistant refuses to answer calls, won’t complete work you assign her, and disappears for hours at a time. You wanted to lean on her for help while the department was short-staffed, but she refused to help.

It’s absolutely appropriate to give this kind of feedback; it’s not about “warning” your new boss, but rather about alerting her to a serious problem in the department that is affecting your work and needs to be dealt with quickly, to minimize its ongoing impact.

Also, does the assistant report to anyone currently — an interim manager or anyone like that? If so, that person should be addressing this with her now, not waiting for the new manager to start.

2. How can I stop gossip on my staff?

I am a new manager with a team of six administrative staff. There is a pervasive culture of gossiping among the team that I am at a loss about how to address. The gossiping is all about (perceived) work performance – two of them will stand in a corner and whisper about how a third did the mail run late today, or wasn’t at the reception desk when an important guest arrived, or didn’t empty the dishwasher when it was her turn. And it’s not just two bad eggs, they all gossip about each other.

I’ve encouraged all of them to come to me with any issues about team performance or tasks being completed (especially since often the gossiping is unfair – the gossipers don’t realise I have given their colleague a specific task with instructions that it is to be done in advance of their other duties). This doesn’t seem to be working.

Should I sit them all down at a team meeting and tell them that gossiping is not OK and I won’t tolerate it? And call them out when I see them doing it? I worry that would make me seem like a teacher, not a manager.

You’ve asked them to come to you with concerns, but have you told them directly to stop gossiping? It doesn’t sound like it, and that needs to be your first step: explicit feedback about what you want to see change. Raise it at your next team meeting, explain that it’s creating a toxic atmosphere that will harm productivity and morale, and that effective immediately, anyone who wants to discuss something negative should be discussing it with someone who can help solve the problem, not gossiping with people who can’t. In other words, you’re implementing a no-gossip policy, and yes, that’s a thing.

If it continues after that, talk with the individual perpetrators one-on-one and explain the consequences if the behavior continues (in other words, treat it just like any other performance problem that has consequences attached — and it is indeed reasonable to replace people over this if they’re poisoning your culture). Make sure you’re also modeling the behavior you want to see; you need to walk the walk on this.

This isn’t schoolmarmish of you; managers absolutely should talk explicitly about the culture they want to see and address behaviors that are out of sync with that culture.

3. How can I ask my internship manager why my hours are decreasing?

I’m currently a part-time student with a couple of (paying!) internships that are keeping me afloat financially. I’ve been very lucky in my field in terms of these internships, especially to get paying ones. Lately, though, one of my internships has been reducing my hours, and I’m not sure why. There was no formal agreement when I was hired on time per week or length of the position, but there was an informal discussion where I was offered 12 hours/week, with the possibility of working there for the next two years that I am in school.

But now, as I said, my hours have been reduced, and I haven’t been given any reason. I do have a couple of theories about why this might be happening, but obviously no evidence or solid reason either way. Over the past month, I’ve worked eight, six, three, and five hours/week. As you can imagine, this has had a pretty significant impact on my budget, and I’d like to talk to my boss about why my hours have dropped so drastically.

I’m worried that my boss might be phasing me out and/or planning to fire me, though I don’t have any real evidence to support either fear. Obviously I don’t want to be fired, so if that’s what my boss is moving towards, I’d rather have a conversation with him and find an arrangement that works (even if it means I end up no longer having a job there). What would be the best way to approach this conversation? Especially given that, schedule-wise, it looks like I might end up having to do it via phone or email. I was planning on starting a chat with him about planning my schedule for next semester – would that be a good way to introduce the topic?

Yep, that’s a perfect opener (although if you didn’t have that easy segue, you could still just call or email about this). I’d say something like: “I was hoping we could talk about my hours. I’ve been scheduled for fewer and fewer hours these last few weeks. Is that because of the holidays, or something you think is likely to continue? I’d like to get a sense of what’s realistic to expect going forward.” If your boss says that they won’t go back up or if she avoids the question, then I’d say: “Can I ask — are there are any concerns about my work that are impacting my schedule? If there are, I’d really want to know so that I can try to improve.”

4. Can I ask for a raise while I’m also applying for another internal job?

I have been planning to ask for a significant raise for a few months (we do annual salary adjustments at 3%). However, a higher level position that I think I am very qualified for just opened up in another department and I am considering applying for it. Is it weird to ask for a raise in my current position, then move forward with an application for the other one? My current supervisor is also the hiring manager for the other position.

I’d normally do it separately — apply for the other job, and then if you don’t get it, ask for a raise at that point. However, since your current manager is also the manager for the position you want to apply for, it might make sense to just lay it all out for her and explain that you think you’ve earned a raise in your current role, and that you’re also interesting in being promoted into the other position and would like to talk to her about both of those things.

5. Leaving a temp job early

This is more of a curiosity-question than an urgent-needs question. I just applied to a part-time job that ends in June or when [high ranking position] is filled, whichever happens sooner. You mentioned in one of your blog posts that you can take a job knowing you’ll quit it as soon as something better comes along if you’re up-front about this to the employer from the beginning or if it’s a job where there is typically high turnover.

What about when the job is temporary and can end at any time? I assume it’d be annoying for the employer to lose a temp worker only a month or three into a short-term job, but it seems unreasonable for anyone to expect an employee to commit to six months when they might get let go much sooner. I’ve never applied/been hired to a temp position before, so sorry if this is a really newbish question.

Yes, if they’re telling you that the job could end at any time (more so than the typical at-will employment situation), it’s unreasonable for them to expect you not to be actively looking for other work. The exception to this would be if they had stressed at the start that they really needed someone who could commit for X months, even though they couldn’t guarantee the work would last that long. In that case, you’d be operating in bad faith to make an explicit agreement like that if you knew you weren’t willing to keep it.

{ 189 comments… read them below }

  1. Julie*

    #1 – Your departmental assistant doesn’t sound like she’s doing much assisting! How has she gotten away with this for so long?

    1. OP*

      Well…..this assistant tends to offer to help other departments with their (non-related, and more ‘fun’) projects. So outwardly to the rest of the staff, she appears friendly and willing to help people out. The breakdown is her ability to help our actual department (which may not be as glamorous as others) with our projects. At the same time, I do what I do for a living because I like the challenges of my job. If someone isn’t interested in the work they are doing, then that’s why I question this person’s long-term role within our department.

  2. Chocolate Teapot*

    I’ve been subject to the “Oh I can’t do that, I don’t know how” response from an assistant. The irony being that she was the person who showed me how to carry out the task in the first place! In this case, it’s somebody who resents doing administrative work.

    On one occasion I gave her a priority package to be sent that day. She immediately said it was too late (it wasn’t) and could it wait? I resorted to talking her through the package registration system. (The recipient was already recorded in the system so you just have to click on the name to select them) and telling her to phone for a pick-up. Admittedly it would have been quicker for me to send the package myself, but I knew I had to push back this sort of task to her.

    1. Anonymous*

      This exact thing happened to me! “I think the FedEx truck already came by!”. I was like no, literally all you need to do is go to the website and schedule the pickup. It takes 5 seconds – stop trying to get out of this one…

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        Yes, that sounds familiar.

        I think it’s the idea that if the assistant performs the task so badly, the person asking will say “Oh it doesn’t matter, I’ll do it myself”.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        If they have a regular pickup at the same time each day, she absolutely should know when it is, too. I would love to see that totally backfire on someone when the FedEx person walks in.

    2. some1*

      As an admin, the only thing I can imagine is that she was trying to discourage last minute packages after her usual pick-up. I used to support two guys who never failed to bring me huge packets of materials that had to go overnight as I was gathering my purse and coat to leave.

      That being said, lying is definitely not the way to handle this.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I have an administrative background too, but I always try to brief whoever is making my package in advance, that they know their services will be required.

        1. some1*

          That’s awesome. When co-workers give me head’s up but gets something to me at the 11th hour, I’m willing to just stay and help 99% of the time.

    3. Not an Admin*

      Do you have a regular pick up time negotiated with your shipping company? If so, she may have been trying to save money. If a shipping company has to make a special trip to your business, they often will charge extra for that trip. If that was the case, she should have explained it to you, but too often I see non admins jumping to the conclusion that an admin is lazy or resentful of being an admin when there are other factors at play. It also helps to give your admin notice that you will have a package going out that day so s/he can plan accordingly.

    4. EvilQueenRegina*

      That reminds me of when I first started at work, the woman who started the same week as me had used the same database in her old job as the one we use now but I hadn’t, by the end of the first week I was teaching her how to use it! Shows how much she actually got done at her old job and nothing has changed.

  3. en pointe*

    #1 – I wonder where people get the gall to do stuff like this. There are parts of my job that I don’t like but I still work hard because, among other reasons, I like having a job.

    I actually find this assistant quite impressive, albeit in a slightly decadent sort of way.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I wonder where they get the gall too, but on the other hand it’s a lot easier to be this lazy when you’re allowed to get away with it for so long. Sounds like the assistant has been able to do this stuff with no repercussions so she’s just going to keep at it until there is a consequence.

    2. Windchime*

      I just wonder how people like this manage to keep their jobs. If I just decided that there were things I was going to refuse to do even though it was part of my job, I don’t think they would keep me around here very long.

  4. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*


    This is really common and part of the game in working with temp employees. Yeah, it sucks when we have seasonal temps, train them, and then one or two leave for a perm opportunity but that’s how the game is played.

    What you want to avoid is making your temp agency look bad to the employer, so don’t look flaky. Flaky would be having a serious of mystery illnesses while interviewing for perm and then calling up and saying “can’t come in anymore”. That’ll burn your bridge with that agency forever.

    If you can give some notice on the temp job, and it’s appropriate given your temp tasks, that’s professional behavior but not required. Watch your personal money on this one. If you give two weeks, they could easily say nevermind don’t come back. If that two week income loss means you can’t make rent, be very careful about notice.

    If you *really* like the place you are temping, it’s also appropriate to speak to your workplace manager if you have a perm job offer, in case the workplace might want to make you an offer also. All of our temp positions are actually temp to hire but we don’t frame it like that so as not to get people’s hopes up (or cut them off from looking at other options for themselves). On occasion we have sped up a hire (at significant fee cost to us) in order to retain someone we’d like to stay with us.

    1. OP #5*

      “If you can give some notice on the temp job, and it’s appropriate given your temp tasks, that’s professional behavior but not required…If you give two weeks, they could easily say nevermind don’t come back. ”

      I would have assumed two weeks was required! Thanks for bringing that up. Something to take into account if I ever get a temp job and want to leave it for sometning else.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        When you are a temp employee, I can call the agency any evening and say, ask this person not to come back. I don’t even have to talk to you face to face about it…I don’t have to have any reason, even if it was supposedly a longer assignment.

        If I staff five people for a busy season and busy season isn’t as busy as I thought it would be, I can call the agency and say, nevermind I only need 3 now and they clean that all up for me.

        In what part of that “contract” would a temp employee owe me two weeks notice? I just don’t see it. Mind, we treat all of our people, regular or temporary employees well and we generally get some notice from somebody who needs to leave the assignment, but I can’t see how two weeks is owed.

        (I can’t remember the last time if ever we cut off a temp assignment coldly, btw, but that doesn’t matter because the part where we are free to do so if we want/need means the other party should be free do it that way as well, IMHO)

        1. Chinook*

          I have actually been party to calling a temp job off on short notice. We sent her back 30 minutes after she arrived (but paid her for the full day) because her English skills were not strong enough to answer a busy switchboard. I still don’t know what the agency was thinking because it wasn’t the temp’s fault.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Oh, we’ve done that multi times.

            We interview temps now and have a system to onboard them to avoid that unpleasantness but we still have to throw some people back within the first few weeks.

            There’s the can’t make it to work on time, the called out three days in a row, the social sally who doesn’t work at work, the turns out they aren’t competent, and then the special kind of crazy kind. I have no qualms about having the agency deal with that. That’s what they get paid for.

            What we don’t do is pull the rug out from someone who has been with us for a bit and is expecting the temp assignment to last until a certain date.

            And, I’ve had that switchboard operator temp. :-)

        2. JessB*

          My office just did this last week. We were having trouble with the temp, and then he called in sick one time too many. My manager called the agency and asked them to send someone else the next day.

          That’s not the first time we’ve had to do that, either, but my workplace is not the most circumspect. I started here as a temp, and the process used to be that you’d start out being told it was a 3-5 day contract, with the possibility of extension. If you were good, we’d extend the contract, usually for the whole length we expected it to run. If not, you were told the contract was ending and we’d get someone else.

  5. ProcReg*

    #5…I was had a temp position for what I was told would last a month. I lasted two weeks because my boss found out I was looking for a job. Stupid.

    My other temp jobs had encouraged me to use work time and resources to apply for jobs. Reasonable people will understand.

    1. Joey*

      Or reasonable people will understand that if someone’s paying you you should really be working for them, not looking for someone else to pay you.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Yeah, I find it odd that other temp jobs would encourage you to use their resources and time to look for other jobs. I’ve done temp work myself and that was never the case. Exception would be if it was a job where they just needed a warm body to sit in the chair all day and there wasn’t a whole lot for you to actually do. Then I could see it. Otherwise though, no. You’re there to work for that company. Job hunting should be done on your own time.

        1. Portia de Belmont*

          I’ve had it happen a couple of times; both were law offices in the process of closing down, and we were encouraged to use all the remaining resources to find our next job. The philosophy was that “we’re taking away your job, and the decent thing to do is help you find another one”.

          1. Ruffingit*

            In that case it makes sense though. You’re not there to help the business be profitable, you’re there to help it close down. Entirely different scenario in my view.

          2. Kelly O*

            I think that’s the big difference though – if you’re explicitly told something is okay, that changes the whole dynamic.

            But a temp job? Honestly I wouldn’t do it. Taking a call during the day? Okay, so long as you keep it short and have a private place to make the call.

            Now, if you are explicitly told you have time in the day to do that, it’s a whole different issue entirely. But most of the time a temp is brought in to get a specific thing done, not tweak your resume for something else.

        2. Jamie*

          Back when I was temping I have had that happen, too. Sometimes they just want someone for the phones and don’t want to train you in more than the minimum so there is a lot of downtime and they tell you they don’t mind – even explicitly saying you’re free to surf the net, send out resumes, whatever.

          But unless this is explicitly stated you don’t do that. And you can’t assume because the last 10 places were okay with it that 11 is.

          Usually it’s those places that encourage it where you’re in for a couple days or a week and it’s more trouble to train you to do anything else – and it’s also a message not to ask them about a permanent position sometimes.

          But other than that, if you have downtime as a temp (and there is a lot of it) learn software. I made it a game when I temped early on to go through the help files and learn different programs from each of the different companies. I was like hoarding a list of software familiarized myself with – so a day at a reception desk where the phone rings twice didn’t feel like a waste of time.

          And you can ALWAYS learn more about Excel. I don’t care how advanced you are – there is always more to learn and plenty of free online resources.

      2. Ann Furthermore*

        But this poster didn’t say anything about looking for another job during the work hours of the temp assignment. A person working a temporary job would most likely rather have a full-time position, so it’s not unreasonable to continue that search while working as a temp.

        Now, if the temp wants to take time off in the middle of the day for interviews, or come in late or leave early, that’s another story.

        1. Jamie*

          My other temp jobs had encouraged me to use work time and resources to apply for jobs. Reasonable people will understand.

          If you’re talking about the poster to whom Joey replied I think we’re inferring it was on work time because of the above quote.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I’ve never had temp jobs where the employer didn’t understand that I was temporary, and therefore was probably looking for permanent employment. I’ve met people who liked temping for variety or just for a little extra income on top of retirement, for example, but most of them were seeking a full-time job.

    3. Ex-Mrs Addams*

      In previous temp jobs it’s always been understood that you’ll be looking for permanent employment, and most have been reasonable about changing schedules or taking (unpaid) days off for interviews. However using company time/resources outside of lunchtimes was always a no-no. I was there to work, albeit temporarily, not jobsearch – even if a company had allowed it I don’t think I could have taken them up on it.

    4. Jaimie*

      Wait, what? They were paying you hourly and you spent those hours looking for other work? That is not what they are paying you for.

  6. Name*

    Make sure to enforce consequences on the gossipers. It’s something that has come up in every mostly-female workplace I’ve been in and it’s a constant irritation to see bosses give lip service to a no-gossip policy then fail to DO anything when people continue.

    Currently, even my manager gossips and it’s one of the many reasons I’m currently job hunting. The other day I came across a post-it with a complaint about perceived work performance on it so keep in mind that even if they aren’t whispering in the corner they will look for ways to keep doing it. According to a book I just skimmed from The Betches gossiping is a female right but does it ever make regret working in mostly-women or all-women environments when this is the belief some people hold about it.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Especially when they are on the rag.


      Workplace behavior is about *people*, not about gender. When you make it about gender you make yourself look small and you limit your own opportunities.

      1. Jen in RO*

        However… in my experience, women *do* gossip more than men. That doesn’t mean that men don’t, but I’ve met fewer of them.

        Name’s comment doesn’t really make sense to me, though. “Gossiping is a female right”? Um, no; it might be more frequent among females, but it’s not a right in any shape or form.

        1. Cat*

          You clearly have never worked in my office where the men are orders of magnitude more gossipy than the woman. Of course when they do it’s often considered “bonding.” When women do it, it’s gossip.

          1. Kelly L.*

            This. It’s not that women talk more, it’s that their talk gets labeled as “gossip” when men saying the same things are just “talking.” It’s a pervasive cultural bias.

            1. Kelly O*

              Yup. Men do it too, but it’s done in a different way, and therefore appears to be perceived differently.

              I think there is a difference between discussing a problem and gossiping too, although that line can be difficult to discern sometimes, and the area gets a bit grey. It’s easy to have those “let’s resolve this problem and figure out why this is happening” conversations turn a bit gossipy.

              (And there is the whole issue of intent. I’ve seen the guys get pretty ugly in intent, but it’s never labeled “gossip” – which I don’t understand.)

          2. LisaLyn*

            That is my current department. The men are very catty about each other and even their appearances.

            I learned that gossipy behavior knows no gender bounds when my father was an “elder” in our church and stepped down because their meetings were just, in his opinion, gossip sessions.

          3. Jamie*

            I’d feel at home in Cat’s office. I hear far more gossip from men, but not because men gossip more…I just work with more men.

            IME it doesn’t bear out at all that women gossip more than men about co-workers – this is pretty equal across the sexes.

          4. TL*

            Yup yup yup. Men gossip just as much as women in my experience; it’s just that the talk isn’t labelled as gossip nearly as easily for a men as for a woman.

          1. hamster*

            No, there’s a book, “nice is just a place in france” where they say gossip as in talking sh$$ about others is a human right.
            I’m not kidding.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Holy sheets, you’re not.

              From the Amazon description:

              LOOK, MAYBE YOU’RE A NICE GIRL, but we’re guessing you’re more like us or you probably wouldn’t have picked up this book. Not that we have a problem with girls who are nice people. But being nice is just not the way to get what you want. And this book is about getting what you want. Not in like a finding happiness, giving back to the world, being grateful for what you have sort of way. But in a ruling your world, being the most desired, powerful badass in the room way, so you can come out on top of any situation: guys, career, friends, enemies, whatever.

              How does a betch make that happen?

              Here are some highlights:

              DON’T BE EASY.

              DON’T BE POOR.

              DON’T BE UGLY.

              We didn’t come up with these life lessons. We’re just the ones who wrote it all down. This is not self-help. Self-help is for fat people and divorcées. This is how to deal with your problems when you have no problems. You’re welcome.


              1. TL*

                Don’t be poor! I used to be poor, but then I woke up one day and was like, “no betch!” and the moneys just walked right into my motel room.

                I used to be ugly, too, but then I looked in the mirror and was like, “no betch!” and this nice plastic surgeon walked right in and made me look like Cindy Crawford! It was awesome! (Though kinda creepy; she already had the scalpel out when I met her.)

              2. hamster*

                Yeah. And i read the preview on my kindle . It only gets worse. One of the punchlines is we have ovaries, why not let the men do all the work.

              3. Kimberlee, Esq.*

                To be fair, I think it is written tongue-in-cheek. I mean, the tongue is pretty far in the cheek, so to speak, so it’s hard to tell, but…

        2. Jubilance*

          I disagree. Men gossip just as much, if not more than women, but they call it different things. Trust me, I’ve heard more than enough of them to know it happens. Instead of “gossip” they call it “comparing notes” or “having a status” or whatever other euphemism they can come up with to disguise that they are actually gossiping.

        3. Anonymous*

          They’ve done some pretty interesting studies that show that when men and women have the exact same conversation with women it is called “gossip” and with men it isn’t.

          And it is both women and men who use these terms.

          A group of men are standing around and discussing another coworkers failings and what should be done to address it.
          A group of women are standing around and discussing another coworkers failings and what should be done to address it.

          Same exact situation: different perspective because of gender bias.

        4. Jen in RO*

          OK, we must hang around very different men. Maybe it’s because I work with programmers and most of my friends also work in IT… but the vast majority of the men I know just don’t *talk* as much as the vast majority of the women I know.

          (Yes, it’s anecdata, but so is everybody’s else’s.)

          1. hamster*

            I worked with programmers too. There was a lotta gossip there . And office politics too. Like everywhere. And i was the only girl in the office. So all – men – gossip flavor just the same. Still, it wasn’t so much gossip to be an issue, but it was not missing either

          2. TL*

            Eh, studies have shown that men talk just as much as women do. Men and women use the same number of words every day; women just use a greater variety.

            Though, of course, you could be in a quiet pocket, no doubt about that.

          3. Jubilance*

            I’ve worked in all-male technical environments (engineers & scientists, but no programmers) and I’ve heard a ton of gossiping among the men.

            Plus you aren’t privy to whatever conversations the men may be having without you around, so it’s possible that they’re doing a lot of talking when you aren’t around.

            1. Jen in RO*

              I hope it’s because I’m new and they don’t know me yet.. I’m feeling lonely here and I want people to talk to!

              1. hamster*

                Give it 6 months. If i remember correctly , you said you’re fairly new . I was in a similar situation, and somehow 6 months was the tipping point for me to feel included and not-lonely in the new group. We went out for lunch or whatever before. But i guess the litmus test for me was being included in small office gossip ( harmless stuff) and invited for the odd happy hour

          4. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            IT is the gossip hub in our company, mostly because they know where all the bodies are buried.

            90% male.

            If you need a piece of information, that’s where you go. They have it, and they spill. They are selective about to whom they spill, but they spill well.

            1. Jamie*

              I will neither confirm nor deny regarding others in my field – however I have always said when one is new at a company besides your manager you need to get on the good side of:


              Very diverse functions, but having a friend* in each will assure you a much smoother path to getting things done, and knowing what you need to know.

              *if not a friend at least don’t be someone whose very name makes them want to roll their eyes in their head.

              I’m not a spiller – with global access comes the responsibility to keep one’s mouth shut except for official channels (and I can never remember what I know through open channels and am allowed to say and what I know but can’t say…so I just err on everything being need to know) – but reception always knows the unofficial and much more real power structure and where the cracks in the facade are…and maintenance knows everything because people yammer on and forget they are in the room.

              1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                Couldn’t agree more.

                Add shipping/receiving to that if you’d like to have your packages delivered when they arrive rather than have to track them down days later in a large unclaimed pile.

                My tight relationship with IT allows me to gather information on what’s going on in other divisions that are competing for resources with me. A heads up that Knucklehead Ken has just dropped an insane project on them (whilst chewing them out along the way) allows me to head off Ken sucking up all of the resources and delaying my project.

                They get the steam release about Ken, I get the opportunity to keep my stuff moving. (Because I am senior level, it’s not inappropriate for me to have that info, but I get that info because they are looking out for me….and they know I’ll go to bat to keep Ken from wrecking their month. )

            2. Seattle Writer Girl*

              Yes to this! I share an office with our IT guy (small business in a small office) and simply by proximity, I am always one of the first to know when someone is being let go because a manager’s first stop is always to IT to shut down all of the fired person’s accounts….

              1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                In that case, they know *before* the body is buried.

                Yep, we heads up IT prior to term. They’d be in big trouble if they spilled about a term before it happened though.

                1. Jamie*

                  That would be grounds for immediate dismissal, imo. If you’re entrusted with confidential information you keep your mouth shut.

                  But like the instance you mentioned above – it’s absolutely valuable information about Ken sucking resources and nothing wrong with them explaining their current eta on stuff because of it and absolutely nothing wrong with running with this info to cover your bases in other areas.

    2. dahanaha*

      Ha!!! I work in a male dominated office and believe me the old men gossip WAAAY more than any of the females around. They are just louder and more obnoxious about it so it might not be classified as “gossip”.
      Some PEOPLE gossip, some PEOPLE don’t it is not gender defined.

    3. A Teacher*

      We just went over the statistics in the college course I teach and its something like 67% of women’s conversation is gossip while 56% of men’s is gossip. Basically, we all gossip a lot in our regular conversation.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Yeah, you’d have to look at the definition of “gossip” in a study like that to whack out gender bias.

          My husband and his friends are hysterical. Bunch of 50 year old men who have been friends since HS football playing years. They gossip *constantly* back and forth with each other sometimes multi times a day via text message, but they wouldn’t think to attach the word “gossip” as a descriptor ’cause you know, they’re dudes . Who played football once upon a time.

          It’s the full gamut, too. Who is zooming who, who’s mad at whom, who is in financial trouble even…who got *fat*!

          It’s hysterical. And mostly harmless. But definitely gossip.

        2. A Teacher*

          and that’s the crux of it, which the students discussed, its hard to truly define “gossip.” I don’t remember where I saw the study that I got the numbers from but it was just interesting that for what the study called gossip men and women both do quite a bit of it.

    4. some1*

      Some positions make you privy to good gossip that other roles are not: Reception/admin, IT, management, HR.

      IME, it’s not that women were more likely to dish the dirt than men, but it was about what kind of person you are on the inside. Are you a drama lover? Is it important to you to be seen as someone who knows stuff other people don’t? Do other people’s (perceived) failures make you feel better about yourself, or do you want other people’s failures to detract from your own? I don’t think any of these traits are exclusively gender specific.

  7. Jen*

    At one past job there was a little post card in a lot of the cubicles and it said

    “When considering whether to chatter about something, ask yourself first:
    -Is it kind?
    -Is it true?
    -Is it necessary?”

    This was hanging right behind my phone and in a lot of other cubes in that same place. I assume they gave them out years before I got there. But it was a helpful constant reminder.

    I think a conversation is best but then introducing that as a policy isn’t bad. It’s a good thing for people to remember.

    1. Marilla*

      I heard a similar line in a lecture recently and loved it – everything you say should be completely kind, completely true, and completely necessary. It’s a tough standard to meet but it rings very true to me.

  8. Andrew*

    #2 – While it’s highly likely you’re right, you should also check yourself before you say anything. Are you accessible and friendly with your employees about things? Do you make it obvious that you are approachable and fair?

    I say this because there is a lot of gossip at my work and while we should go to our boss about changes, she is often inaccessible when we want to talk to her. She’s also thrown people under the bus and used that information against them in the future. Or, nothing gets solved regarding the problems we have raised. We’re scared that if we approach her about problems she’ll eventually use it to fire us. It’s made us all hesitant to want to approach her with any problems and it breeds a lot of discontent amongst the staff.

    While I highly doubt you are that way (at least I hope not!), it’s important to think back upon past experiences as well as your general demeanor before you put the blame entirely upon your employees.

    1. tcookson*

      I had a boss who, whenever anybody brought him a complaint about a coworker, he would ask for very specific occurrences (date, time, exactly what each person said, etc.). And then he’d ask, “Can you put that in writing for me?” If the person was foolish enough to put it in writing, he’d take the written document to the offending co-worker and say, “Tcookson said this, this, and this about you. What’s your response?” We learned pretty quickly that it was pointless (and potentially harmful) to expect any help from him.

  9. Barbara in Swampeast*

    #2 – I am surprised that your gossip mongers haven’t come to you yet. You really don’t want them to come to you because what they have to complain about isn’t worth your time. If you don’t take them seriously, they won’t be back. They are looking for an audience and to cause trouble.

    Be aware that you may have to replace some people. Some people are so toxic that simple rules won’t stop them. Firing people isn’t fun, but I have worked in a toxic department with inexperienced managers who tried to make the gossipers/whiners happy and it was horrible. The only solution was time as the whiners eventually left on their own and they were replaced by better employees. The department also lost a lot of their best employees because we had had enough.

    Plan now on having to replace a couple of the gossipers because that might be the only way to solve your problem.

  10. tcookson*

    #2. How can I stop gossip on my staff?

    I would love to hear an update on this one, especially if OP #2 does sit down with his staff and implement the no-gossip policy. It will be very interesting to see whether his staff 1) take it seriously and 2) are able to curtail their ingrained behavior, or whether OP #2 will have to take additional steps to correct their behavior.

    At OldJob, the staff came up with a spontaneous, self-imposed no-complaining policy simply because we were tired of hearing ourselves whine. Even though all the challenges and frustrations that had prompted our complaining were still there, we were all in a much better mood once we stopped complaining. I think OP #2’s staff may experience a similar uplifted mood once they drop the negative behavior.

    1. Fee*

      Wow, great idea. I wish I had thought of that at OldJob. Not sure how well it would have gone down though. I think for some of my colleagues, complaining about it was the thing they enjoyed most about working there.

    2. Jen in RO*

      One of the reasons I left my old job was the constant whining. Yes, the problems were real, but whining only helped for a while… then we had problems *and* a bad attitude.

      1. hamster*

        Interesting. This must be really a place of a good person leaving because of negative attitudes. Please tell us more. Were you close with the team you left? Did you go to your manager with this complain ( negative work space ) , how much time when you realized you don’t like it and started searchin?

        1. Jen in RO*

          I am still close with the team, actually, we see each other fairly regularly, and I like them as people. We were just in this big circle of negativity and, unless conditions in the company changed dramatically, I didn’t see a way out except the obvious. (I didn’t leave *just* because of the negativity, the problems were real, but getting away from the negativity was a bonus.)

          The team leader was one of the most negative coworkers, so there was no help there, and the manager was sort of aware of it, but he was an ocean away so there wasn’t much he could do… Unfortunately the manager *caused* much of the negativity because of the way he handled (or rather, didn’t handle) certain issues.

          I don’t have an exact timeline, but we started being understaffed about a year and a half ago, which started the issues, about a year ago I realized my boss was getting out of touch with the situation “on the ground” so I started casually searching, and about 6 months ago I decided I had enough. I found a job pretty fast and I’ve been here for 3 months now.

          1. Jen in RO*

            Oh, and we did tell the manager (repeatedly) that we are understaffed and can’t keep doing X, Y, Z, but the reply was either “oh you’re exaggerating” or “don’t worry, it will be solved” (it never was). One result of this, combined with the negative attitude, was that we didn’t believe the manager even when he said reasonable things.

            1. hamster*

              I guess it is so annoying when it happens and so releaving when you get out of it. I guess it’s easy to be sucked up in negativity, and getting out of touch with the atmosphere can happen easily when having a remote manager. Well , good to you for changing what you could and letting of what you couldn’t ( other’s attitudes, inherent staffing problems. etc)

      2. Elkay*

        Me too, it gets really old really fast hearing people complain. Especially as my old job was pretty good in terms of what you got for what you did. Yes, the management were awful but they weren’t going to change so you can either suck it up or leave. I wouldn’t have minded if people were actively searching but most were happier to sit and whine.

      3. tcookson*

        I think it gets depressing when people start complaining a lot, because the complaining becomes the focus rather than fixing any problems. You can almost bet that when people start complaining as a habit, they will become complacent about ever changing anything. And that is what makes it time to get out.

    3. Anon Accountant*

      1 of the best bosses I ever had would tell us “instead of complaining about something, focus on the solution. What potential solutions can we come up with to alleviate the problem of xyz?”

      Negativity spreads faster than positive things.

    4. Ex-Mrs Addams*

      I tried this at old!job but sadly it didn’t take hold despite constant reminders. It really is true that gossip and negativity just brings everyone down – I am naturally a positive, optimistic person, but my co-workers at old!job really knocked that out of me whilst I was there. the culture was so bad that if I even tried to be neutral and fair-handed (rather than dismissive and pessimistic) I was made fun of for being too optimistic.

      Luckily I now have a new job, and whilst it’s not perfect there is a lot less negativity and gossip and it feels so much better.

      1. tcookson*

        I think the reason it worked at OldJob is that we were all like you, Ex-Mrs Addams: most of us were naturally positive and optimistic at heart. We didn’t really enjoy our complaining and whining; it was something we did to relieve tension that quickly became a habit. Once we realized we didn’t even want to be around ourselves anymore, we had a pretty long non-complaining streak. I think someone broke it when something happened that they just. could. not. *NOT* complain about, but even that complaint was delivered as a good-natured joke. Good bunch of folks — and I miss them!

  11. BCW*

    The answers for #1 and #2 sound almost contradictory. It sounds like the OP and her co-worker are not just gossiping about how bad this other person is, but they want to take it to the boss, yet in #2 they are gossiping about how bad other co-workers are, but this needs to be stopped? Now part of this is that I don’t really know where you draw the line as to what is normal workplace chatter about a co-worker, and what is gossiping. I personally considered gossiping to be about someone’s personal life, and their work performance was fair play. But since we don’t seem to be using those guidelines here…

    In number #1 you are saying they should tell the new boss about the assistant that they don’t like and how bad she is at her job, which comes off very “mean girls” to me. Its hard to not assume some of this is personal. I just think its a lot when 2 people on the first week a new boss is there go and talk badly about the 3rd person in the department. I mean even if the assistant wants to defend herself, its now 2 on 1. Maybe she realizes how much you don’t like her and thats why she is “Bad” at her job. Its possible she will be great for the new boss. Maybe she will suck whoever is the boss. We don’t know. However, I kind of think the boss should be able to make that call on her own.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      The approach shouldn’t be a “Jane is such a terrible, awful slacker that we can’t stand” but more of a “When these tasks aren’t done, I can’t do my duties of teapot design, etc. and this in turn holds up the engineering department.” AAM’s wording is excellent for addressing the business issues with the new manager.

      The new manager can observe what the assistant is doing or isn’t doing and address it from there.

    2. anon*

      You seriously can’t tell the difference between gossiping in corners and approaching a boss with productivity concerns related to a coworker’s performance?

      1. BCW*

        My point is that either the groups in both questions are BOTH gossiping, or neither is gossiping. In question 1, these 2 co-workers have clearly had conversations about this other person’s work performance. In question 2, it sounds like a lot of groups are having conversations about other people’s work performances here. Now how its framed when it goes to the boss is important, and yes I do see how the difference in how that is done could change perception. But lets be clear, if we are defining the people in #2 as gossipers, we can’t say that the people in question #1 aren’t. If its bad in #2, its bad in #1

          1. Ruffingit*

            Exactly. That is the difference. Merely talking about someone’s work performance does not make it gossip. If the people in #1 are saying “OK, we’ve got problems A,B, and C with assistant. This causing problems X,Y, and Z for us. What can we do about this?” that is not gossip. There is some amount of discussion that has to happen before you take things to the boss because you need to know what the problems actually are and what issues stem from those problems so you can have a coherent discussion with boss.

            Now, if the people in #1 were standing around going on and on about how lazy and what a bitch the assistant is, then yes I would see that as gossip and crappy behavior on their part. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. The people in #1 are looking for guidance on how to approach what has become a major blockage in their system due to the assistant’s inability/refusal to do her job.

          2. Adam V*

            Exactly. People in #1 have specific grievances and are taking them to the person who can fix them; people in #2 are simply whining for the sake of whining.

          3. Emily K*

            Related to this, I came to the comment specifically to post that it was a huge lightbulb moment when I read this in the linked article:

            “Gossip is defined as discussing anything negative with someone who can’t help solve the problem.”

            Holy. Crap. This just made me re-evaluate so much of my own behavior. I’ve always had, I guess, an unconsciously gendered idea of gossiping as being something related to spreading secrets about people’s personal lives, ‘secret’ and ‘personal’ being two very key parts of my definition. I’ve never thought that when I chat a coworker to say, “Geez, IT is taking forever to respond to my support request about my phone not working, so now I’m having to dial in from my cell. Annoying!” that I was engaging in gossip. I would have called that “venting” thinking that I was about a situation, and “gossip” is about people. Now I realize that it’s actually a form of gossip, and the definition also makes it obvious why it’s not productive: I’m “venting” to someone who has no power to make things better, which actually is basically just stewing in the annoyance, not getting relief from it. I’m going to rethink so much of my behavior!

        1. Jamie*

          No, both groups aren’t gossiping even if the same behavior is noted.

          If a receptionist is constantly late it’s not gossiping for people to mention that when she is late so often they are not able to do X because they are busy with the interruption of the phones. Direct effect on other employees and running of the business.

          Gossip is speculating about why she’s late, why they aren’t firing her, why she makes what she makes, or catty remarks that have nothing to do with work.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          What Joey said. There is an actual problem with the first person.

          The people in #2 seem to be making stuff up–the OP said they don’t understand that she might have given a coworker a priority task, and apparently, they’re just kvetching about why the coworker is doing X instead of why. That’s completely different from the admin who is actually avoiding her duties.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In #1, they don’t currently have a manager to intervene and are discussing work problems that are getting in their way. When their manager starts, they will take the problem to her, which is appropriate.

      In #2, they’re not looking for solutions; they’re just gossiping with each other.

      One is solution oriented and one is not.

      And they need to tell the new manager, not leave her to observe it on her own, because if the admin shapes up when the new boss starts or succeed in hiding the behavior for a while, the new boss needs to know how she handled the manager-less period. That’s hugely relevant about her character and work ethic, and has repercussions for how she might act when the new manager isn’t around.

      1. BCW*

        I see your point, I’m just a fan of letting people form their own opinions. I compare it to when I was a teacher. When I first started, I’d have their former teachers give me to low down on the students. But then I found that I had unfair opinions based on someone else’s experience. Often, those students were fine for me. It was an issue just between that teacher/student, not that the student was a bad kid. I know that this situation is different, however I think in some ways the same things apply. I’ve had co-workers that I didn’t get along with for various ways, and it probably showed when we worked with each other. However if those co-workers decided to get in my new managers ear before she even had a chance to see me work, it would anger me.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Sure, but the manager can judge for yourself. If I were that manager and found that my new employees didn’t tell me about a serious performance issue that had gone on with their assistant while they were manager-less, I’d be pretty concerned about their judgment and what else they might not tell me.

              1. LJL*

                I beg to differ. One troublesome student can bog down a whole class, considering both performance and attitude.

        2. Emily K*

          “However if those co-workers decided to get in my new managers ear before she even had a chance to see me work, it would anger me.”

          There’s a difference though between you not getting along with a coworker, and someone not meeting deadlines, completing work properly, etc. They can only “get in your manager’s ear” if you’re not doing the work you’re supposed to be doing.

          I currently work with a guy I broke up with in the last year. It was a bitter, nasty breakup and we’re still very hostile to each other. But we respond to each other’s work emails promptly and deliver work product to each other correctly. Because not getting along shouldn’t impact how well we do our jobs. Neither of us slacks on what we owe each other at work just because we don’t get along. There’s nothing he could say to get in a manager’s ear about me. And if he tried to go to a manager and say, “That Emily K is a real b****!” with no work-related complaints to offer, I would hope my prospective manager would ask him what that has to do with work and disregard his opinions.

          1. BCW*

            Thats true, but certain things are also perception. Sure, missing a deadline is a fact. If they said that this assistant is difficult to work with, thats an opinion. Saying she “finds excuses” is also an opinion. One person’s valid reason for not doing something could easily be seen as making up excuses to someone else. And if 2 people go to someone about the only other person there, its almost assuring that the manager will have some negative thoughts in the back of her mind right away. She won’t get the benefit of the doubt that other new employees would get.

  12. Yup*

    #1 It’s all in the delivery. I agree that it’s something your new boss needs to know, because it’s affecting your work. But you’re framing it as “I am having trouble completing X or meeting deadline Y, due to the following things” rather than “here is a list of the reasons why you need to get rid of Assistant.” Presented within the context of your boss getting to know you and your work, it’s perfectly valid to explain the challenges that you face, especially in order to request the boss’s help in resolving them successfully. But you’ll want to be matter of fact and non-accusatory in bringing it up, so that the boss can hear the facts of the problem rather than the annoyance and frustration it’s causing you (which could wrongly appear as a personal beef between you and the assistant).

  13. Yup*

    #2 In addition to addressing it directly, you may need to personally create new mechanisms of communication and feedback so that people move away from gossip and towards open discussion. De-gossiping a workplace is like trying to eradicate bindweed – you need to remove the root systems too, otherwise it just keeps popping up. In my experience, gossipy cultures often spring up in companies that aren’t transparent, don’t communicate with employees, or have other dysfunction where people don’t trust management to be fair or upfront. People turn to gossip as an alternative source of information to fill the gap (even when the gossip is wildly inaccurate). So it might be worth it for you to suss out some of the backstory by asking people how they received feedback in the past, how were tasks assigned, how they received training, etc.

  14. BCW*

    So I’m really curious. What exactly do you all define as “workplace gossip”? If me and a work friend are at lunch and we bring up that Jane is slacking off, is that gossip? This question really isn’t meant to be snarky, its just that what I would consider gossiping, seems to be different from other people. I’m going by the high school version of what you’d call gossip, which can occur at work, but I don’t necessarily think just talking about others makes it gossip. Also, I know someone mentioned the “kind, true, necessary” thing, but based on question #2, it could very much be true, yet people still consider it gossip.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Depends. Why are you talking about Jane slacking off? Is it because you’re looking for a solution or you just want to complain about Jane? If it’s “Jane is slacking off, it’s so annoying.” Person you are speaking to replies with “Oh, I know!! She is always doing shit like that…” That’s gossip. It adds nothing to the conversation but negativity and you’re clearly not looking for a solution.

      In my eyes, what is not gossip: “Jane is slacking off recently, she’s always been really great at meeting deadlines. I wonder if something is wrong that we could possibly help with?” Person you are speaking to replies with “I’ve noticed Jane is having trouble meeting deadlines too. Do you think we should approach her and see if there’s something we can help with? She mentioned a few weeks ago that her mom’s been really sick, I bet that is stressful for her. What could we do to help?”

      I think a lot of it has to do with intent. What is your intent behind bringing it up? Let’s face it, we all know when our intent is to be helpful and when it’s not.

      1. Jen in RO*

        To me, even the “sick mum” thing would fall under gossip, since it’s going into personal territory.
        (For the record, I am not against gossip in general, only mean-spirited gossip.)

        1. Ruffingit*

          I don’t think the sick mom thing is gossip, more speculation on what might be wrong and how the co-workers can help. If Jane mentioned her mother was quite ill, then I think it’s appropriate for the co-workers to think that might be the issue for her drop in performance. Merely mentioning it as a possibility doesn’t seem gossipy to me. Saying something like this would be gossip though: “Jane mentioned her mom was sick, her mom is probably one of those women who makes everything all about her and maybe Jane is having to take care of everything. God, I hate people like that…”

          1. Jen in RO*

            Well, I just don’t see gossip as being strictly negative. If we’re in the office, talking about a third person in terms of something non-work-related would be gossip to me. Not the kind of gossip that causes problems, but still gossip.

            1. Ruffingit*

              For me, the word gossip has negative connotations to it. If someone is speaking positively about another person, I encourage that.

            2. Jamie*

              I agree. For example a work friend had recently gotten married and many of us were at the wedding.

              My boss and I were getting coffee the morning after the wedding and talked about how beautiful it was, how gorgeous she looked, perfect dress, and how happy they seem.

              According to the definition of gossip “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.”

              I guess technically we couldn’t confirm they were happy – and when someone who was invited but couldn’t attend asked us about it we both told them everything we discussed above and how good the food and reception was.

              So technically gossip because we were musing about our unconfirmable opinions about someone else …but certainly not hurtful or offensive.

              Or when they were talking about Black Friday and I mentioned my son works at a clothing store in the mall and it was so crowded, but his managers were great making sure there was coverage for breaks and thanked them all personally for the great work at the end of the day. I wasn’t there, it’s second hand information about people I don’t know – so technically gossip…but who gets hurt?

              But the dictionary aside, I think in the common vernacular most people understand gossip to be nasty or mean spirited. “Jamie does such an amazing job whilst being so cheerful and awesome all the time…I don’t know how she does it. They are so lucky to have her!” I’m not sure that would make me feel I was a victim of gossip as much as if I overheard someone talking about how much I suck and wondering aloud why I haven’t been fired yet.

    2. fposte*

      When I’ve seen that list, the rule is that you have to hit at least two out of three. I think what makes it gossip is that it fails the necessary test and the kind test.

        1. Anonymous for This*

          RE: Gossip — I work for the company linked to. The lack of gossip is one of the biggest reasons it’s hands down the best place I’ve ever worked.

      1. LeeD*

        I agree that when you’re complaining to people who are involved with the situations or individuals, even peripherally, that is gossip. But that’s different from talking to a trusted family member or friend who is in no way connected to any of it. Sometimes you just need someone to hear you, especially when you’re dealing with frustrating situations.

          1. Ruffingit*

            Agreed. Venting is better done with people who are not affected in any way by what you’re talking about.

            1. fposte*

              And even there you need to be aware that this has an effect on your listener–if you’re venting about the same thing at work over and over again to your SO, that can be problematic home front negativity.

              Talking about how crappy things are is a double-edged sword–it can make you feel better for getting it off your chest, and you can certainly bond with people over your shared displeasure. But if it becomes a habit rather than a step toward a solution, you’re starting to perpetuate a problem as well as respond to one. (Speaking as one who’s definitely been there.)

              1. Jamie*

                Yes, this. I’ve been there too, and I’ve posted about this before but I did find a cure that worked for me.

                During a rough patch I was coming home complaining endlessly about everything work related. My husband’s eyes would glaze over, my kids would find any excuse to leave the room…I was boring myself and I was engaged – I can’t imagine how awful it was to have to hear.

                So I set a limit – I could complain about work for 10 minutes, but not right away. I had to change clothes and eat dinner first – and then if I still needed to whine I had 10 minutes.

                I never even hit the 10 minutes and now…I only indulge if it’s funny to me and they might get a kick out of my misery.

                The time limit wasn’t what worked with me as much as I realized once I was in comfy clothes and got something to eat…and had cuddled some fur babies I wasn’t as riled up anymore…I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t want to reignite my aggravation. When I came in the door loaded for bear it never dissipated so I’d be immersed in whatever was annoying me all night and I’d go to bed pissed.

                I don’t know if it would work for everyone, but I’m telling you for me it was an instant cure. That moratorium while I transitioned from work-Jamie to home-Jamie was all I needed…it could be as little as 10 minutes if dinner is ready.

                My family is happier they don’t have to hear it but also because I’m a lot nicer to be around when not angry and actively bitching.

                1. Jamie*

                  In the interest of full disclosure – an annoyed expression of “wtf now???” is still allowed whenever my phone rings with a work crisis after hours and on weekends.

                  Otherwise I would either need to become a saint or I would explode and leave little bits of the IT formerly known as Jamie all over the walls of my house. And the former is never going to happen and the latter would leave way too much mess for my loved ones…and they’d never get me all off the walls.

              2. Ruffingit*

                Oh totally agreed! Everything needs to have an end point. This is true of any topic of conversation. People get tired of listening to the same thing over and over again whether it’s someone complaining about work, their weight, their spouse, etc. Some amount of venting is good for you. Venting all day, every day is not.

  15. Joey*

    Fwiw, a no gossip policy works. When I managed a new group Id hear snippets of gossip. I told the group that any and all concerns about co workers should come to me and that telling other co workers was inappropriate. I had a few come to me and lo and behold most of the gripes had no substance, they merely didn’t like other people. I wagged the finger pretty hard and those folks eventually moved on.

    What a lot of people forget is that complaining without resolving or letting go is a downward spiral. And its funny how forcing yourself to say positive things really makes you happier over time.

    1. Jamie*

      Any and all concerns about co-workers coming to the manager, I would think that could spiral out of control into micromanaging.

      Shouldn’t people try to work things out amongst themselves before tossing the problem upwards.

      1. Ruffingit*

        I agree they should try to work things out, but I think Joey took the right tact with handling it because what it appears he was trying to do was get the co-workers to come to him with all complaints and by doing so he was able to point out to them “This is truly ridiculous, there is no reason for you to be complaining that Sally in Accounting wears the same blue shirt every day.” In other words, it was a way of retraining the employees to think about what really matters. When the rule becomes that you have to bring the complaint to the boss rather than just gossiping about it amongst yourselves, I think it quickly can become clear what is worth talking about and what isn’t.

        1. Joey*

          Funny you say that. I had a couple of conversations like:

          Ee: “Jane doesn’t like me.”
          Joey: “really, what makes you say that.”
          Ee: “I don’t know, I can just tell. She gives me ugly looks and purposefully doesn’t say hi to me in the morning just to piss me off.”
          Joey: “I’m missing something here. Is that it?”
          Ee: “what do you mean? Yes that’s it she clearly doesn’t like me.”
          Joey: goes off

      2. Joey*

        Yes, but I wanted to know they were addressing issues appropriately and constructively with the other person, not just complaining. So after the first time they came to me with a issue the first question out of my mouth was “have you talked to him/her about it?”

        1. Elizabeth West*

          That’s a good question to ask. Horrible Nonprofit Job had a nanny policy–if you had a problem with someone, take it to your manager first, not the person in question. I have no idea why they would do something like that. Perhaps at some point, a conflict existed that wasn’t resolved, and they instituted a blanket policy. Regardless, it didn’t stop people from gossiping.

          1. Cat*

            Sorry, this might be a really annoying comment and apologies if so, but I wanted to point it out since it looks like you might be using your real name. If so, you’ve posted a number of unflattering things about this particular job that, together with the name, might make it/you pretty identifiable. Since this site seems to be getting more and more traffic (deservedly so!), the risk of being identified by real life people might be significantly higher than it used to be.

            1. Paige Turner*

              Not annoying of you to care IMO- I think she mentioned before though that it’s not her real name (sorry to be a creeper! frequent reader, infrequent commenter). This isn’t my real name either ;)

    2. Jen in RO*

      How would you enforce such a policy, though? I think it’s a good idea in theory, but I can’t see it working in practice. It’s not like you can be there when Sally and Mike go to lunch and tear Jim apart.

      1. Ruffingit*

        It may not stop all gossiping certainly and people can talk about whatever they want on their own time, but by removing it from the workplace itself, that can go a long way in cleaning up toxic environments.

        1. Jen in RO*

          True. I keep trying to apply things to my ex-job, but in that case it would have been very hard or impossible, since my former manager was on another continent and barely spoke to the team… Probably much more doable in a regular situation.

      2. Jamie*

        Of course you can’t control people outside of work – and I’ll be honest…I’m not sure how much you can police it inside of work.

        I don’t think I’m a gossip – you guys know way more about what I think of my co-workers than anyone irl – but how would one police what I discuss in my office?

        I’m not sure this is a policy thing for me – I think it’s more about setting the tone for the office so there isn’t a culture of nastiness and backbiting. And you can certainly address gossip, when it happens, as an behavior which is negatively impacting the office without trying to legislate conversation.

        I’ve worked in places where the culture was very negative and everyone complained all the time. I work in a culture now where is people are actively complaining it’s addressed – if the complaints are valid they are discussed? But moaning for the sake of it just isn’t done – so people do it less since it’s not well received by peers or management.

        I just know I would never be the one to want to measure every conversation had in my office to see if it sends the meter into the gossip zone. It’s too subjective – and it would require me to care about stuff that doesn’t impact the work environment.

        Is someone being hurt by the things being said or is work being impacted. Then address it.

        The best gossip cure of all would be for people to remember that people who gossip with you will gossip about you – and don’t say anything at work that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.

        The stuff about how much so and so really needs to change x and y and how if you have to listen to one more rambling blah blah blah from whatshisname you will beat yourself to death with your own keyboard …or the you won’t believe what so and so said…save it for home. They don’t work with you and appreciate a funny story (or mini-rant) about strangers (to them) who annoy you all day.

        1. Jen in RO*

          I like knowing things about my coworkers, because I spend more time with them than I do with my family, so I’m definitely guilty of the “positive gossip” I was describing upthread. And I also understand venting – sometimes management won’t do anything, you’re stuck with a low performer, and it’s vent or kill her… All is fine until it goes overboard and Coworker X or Manager Y can’t say a word without it being twisted into something negative.

          (My boyfriend hates hearing my funny work stories! :( )

          1. Jamie*

            I like knowing stuff about my co-workers, too – I was recently off for 3 weeks and it’s weird how much I missed the in person companionship of the one’s with whom I’m close.

            Maybe this is different depending on the position. The way I look at it if I were complaining about people in my office my boss would, rightly, ask me what I was doing to fix it. Two co-workers complaining about a third when neither has the power to change anything, and the boss isn’t managing the situation. It’s going to happen – but it shouldn’t happen within earshot of other people who don’t want to deal with the negativity.

            The thing is if the gossip takes the form of constant complaining that makes it a really unpleasant workplace for everyone – because it’s draining and defeatist and then it makes those people worse than the one’s they’re ragging on.

            When employees are disgruntled because of bad management you will always have this kind of venting because it’s a coping mechanism.

            But if you have management that addresses issues, even if it’s imperfect, then it should happen a lot less.

            But a lot of people complain for the sake of it and when offered the opportunity to address the problem they back peddle and refuse to talk about it because they were “just venting” then they need to knock it off – I’ve seen a lot of that.

            People who complain and complain that they are being offered OT, why do they always ask me…etc. So then when other people are offered it first, hey I need the money why didn’t they ask me? Sounds ridiculous but it happens all the time – some people just need to complain about something all the time.

            1. Ruffingit*

              Yes. Complaining becomes a habit for some people as ingrained as sitting down with the newspaper and morning coffee.

            2. hamster*

              At my new(ish) job i came with a complainer mentality. I guess i just didn’t have the ideea that if you actually pick your battles you can change things positively. I have a very esteemed colleague of mine who always said. “why so upset? well the policy is this and that, not taking it personally ” or “this seems wrong, have you talked to your manager? I am not your manager, he has the power to fix this” . Sometimes i wanted to tell him, eh i don’t want to bring that to management. But then i realized well it’s not that bad so i should drop it. Now i make a point to begin everything optimistically “i’m sure the new feature will work flawlessly” and it if it really doesn’t i think “well, even spacecrafts fall sometimes, i guess this thing is much more easily fixable. let’s see what i can do”. I am happier with myself really.

    3. Sydney*

      I also like to ask, “How would you like me to handle this?” or “What would you like me to do to fix this?”

      Gives them a chance to actually think about what will actually fix the problem. Most of the time, the person realizes there’s nothing to be done besides changing attitude/perspective.

  16. PPK*

    #5 reminds me of a summer temp job. I was working out of a temp agency for a factory. They had full term employees and hired a variable number of temps to round out the lines (basically, the line leads are employees and they used temps for line workers). We had to call the temp agency everyday at our afternoon break to see if we were needed the next day. It was actually pretty consistent — if you stuck with it for a couple days, they would keep you on. The call was somewhat a (highly annoying) formality.

    Mid way through summer, I was scheduled to get my wisdom teeth out on a Thursday. So on the Wednesday when I got on the phone, I told them I would not be there on Thursday/Friday. The temp agency person seemed annoyed, “Why not?!” she barked at me. I said I was getting my wisdom teeth out. Then she wished me luck instead.

    In retrospect, I could have warned them on Monday of that week. But since we had to call every single day for the next day…I guess I just didn’t have much sympathy.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I had a similar job at a bath products factory when I temped back in 2005, except they called people in for a certain amount of time. We were allowed to talk on the line, which was awesome when you spent eight boring hours shoveling scented Epsom salts into little plastic bags. It smelled great in there and it was kind of fun. When I temped again last year, it made me sad to find out the place had shut down–I wanted to work there again!

  17. iseeshiny*

    Reading #1 and #2 I was like, oh man. We have a coworker like the assistant in #1 – she is lazy, belligerent, has zero sense of boundaries (I actually had to ask her to stop touching me because every single day she would single out some kind of accessory I was wearing, really aggressively compliment me on it, and then touch it without asking), she has lied to my face and said she did work that I know she didn’t do because I ended up having to do it. I and the three other people on our team have brought this up to our boss multiple times (specific instances, with proof!). I know when I brought it up I made a point to say that it’s not about the mistakes, it’s the fact that she doesn’t even try to correct it, gets defensive, lies about whether or not she did it (things we do are logged in the system – it’s really obvious lying) and then goes and does the exact same things again.

    Instead of dealing with it, our boss and his boss sat down our whole team (the Horrible Coworker included) and told us that the gossip needed to stop. And then he said, no, it’s not personal in nature, so it’s not really gossip… we’ll call it backbiting.

    I know that they’re just awful bosses (we have been losing long-term, valuable personnel since they took over as a management team because of their management) but it’s so incredibly frustrating to be told that we are just being mean because we don’t like her, and that talking about the problem is worse than the problem itself.

    Anyway, OP #2, I realize I’m projecting a little, but I hope you’re really certain that they’re “gossiping” for no reason, and not because there are actual performance issues that need to be addressed – especially since, from what you say, it’s all work related.

    1. BCW*

      I think your brief sentence regarding #2 got to what I was trying (poorly) to articulate. If people are venting to each other about actual performance issues that need to be addressed, and remains work related, and is true and not slanderous, I think there is something to that. Sometimes for whatever reason management can’t (or won’t) do anything about these problems. So yes, sometimes people will commiserate with others who can understand what they are going through

      1. iseeshiny*

        Yes. I get get what AAM and others were saying about fostering a negative atmosphere, or nitpicking about stupid little things, but sometimes people have actual gripes, ones that might not seem like a big deal to the boss, but do make a big difference. Like someone being late getting the mail? In my (very small office) all payments for the day need to be processed and gotten to the bank by 2:00 pm or the transaction will post to the next day and we don’t earn interest on it overnight. Someone just flat out not emptying the dishwasher when it’s their turn? What does it take, like five minutes? Even if the boss assigned that person to another project, they couldn’t take care of it or ask someone else if they could switch days? Or how about someone who chronically wanders off from reception? That’s not good, and it especially reflects poorly if someone important comes in and is kept waiting for who knows how long. Yeah, it’s piddly little stuff that brought up one at a time to a boss looks really trivial, and why can’t people just deal with this stuff on their own like adults, but also, why are people unable to do their jobs, or, if they’re assigned other tasks, get someone to cover for them?

        Don’t get me wrong, one of my coworkers just constantly complains about everything and it drives me nuts, but there’s a difference between being a Negative Noogie and having actual issues that are causing resentment.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          And those things are valid and important to raise. But you should raise them with someone in a position to do something about it, not with people who are essentially bystanders, right?

          1. SA*

            Unfortunately I’ve found that management in those type of aforementioned work places are the reason why those particular offices are so bad to begin with. If you see a different face at the receptionist desk every few months (or weeks) then that’s a huge red flag. If you call and get a different person every single time that’s a red flag.

            I’ve complained to two managers at once about how coworker X was refusing to do her work, lying about due dates (she would write dates up to one week before she got the order in), and goofing off on company time. Writing up an order and expecting it to be done in two days after they forgot to write it out is unacceptable. Failing to bill the customer, deliver the product to the customer, etc. will impede other people from trying to do their jobs as well and the managers I used to work for never cared. Sure they’d complain about getting another employee to train the new hire but would never admit they were paying too little or fostering a hostile work environment.

            Ironically each manager I went to said it wasn’t their problem and I kept getting blamed for this coworker’s laziness. It got to the point that I left. If your company goes from more than two dozen employees to eight it’s a obvious sign that something is seriously wrong. If the gossipy parasite is the only one who gets a salary, gets extra days off, and arrives late/leaves early with no questions from the supervisors then one is left to conclude they must go elsewhere for a better job/career since management is so useless. It’s extremely telling when customers cancel orders and go elsewhere then tell you “I’m sorry you have to work in a place like this!” and “I don’t see how you stand it!”. That was my wake-up call and I decided I wasn’t going to do another person’s job when I wasn’t being paid a real wage for mine.

            Companies that foster/create such negative atmospheres are places you never want to work. I’ll sell a kidney before I put myself in such a situation again. Why can’t those companies be shut down or something? It should be legal to put a huge warning sticker on the side of the building at least!

          2. iseeshiny*

            Absolutely. But I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that when an entire team is having recurrent, unresolved problems with one person that they won’t compare notes. The problem coworker has been with us for over a year and if anything she’s gotten worse since she saw that management won’t fire her. They will occasionally “talk” to her but she doesn’t improve.

            And hey, like I said, I don’t gossip since they told us not to. But I don’t think that in this instance a no-gossip policy was a way to solve the problem. It makes life easier on the bosses since they don’t have to hear about it anymore, and we’ve all adjusted to picking up her slack so it doesn’t really affect them, but the resentment is still there.

            1. Joey*

              Here’s the thing though. What purpose does complaining to co workers serve? Especially if you’re rehashing the same issues which you know won’t be fixed.

              1. iseeshiny*

                No purpose at all. But people do a lot of things that serve no purpose, like argue this point in this thread. I guess sometimes it’s nice to be reassured that you’re not crazy, that yes, that behavior is beyond the pale, no, don’t let it get you down. I’ll take care of the filing that she didn’t do if you’ll double-check the vendor numbers she assigned because she always puts the wrong ones on the invoices.

                1. Joey*

                  If complaining about someone serves no purpose that’s gossip.

                  Sure there’s a purpose to this debate. Figuring out what works best and being able to apply it.

    2. Joey*

      Making conclusions is your mistake. Telling your boss that BCW repeatedly fails to get things to you on time is what a reasonable boss can work with. Saying shes lazy, belligerent and has no boundaries isn’t. See the difference?

      1. iseeshiny*

        Hey now, I never said that stuff when I was bringing up the issues to my boss. I kept it strictly work related, mentioned how it affected my ability to do my job, did not make it personal at all.

      2. iseeshiny*

        Also, when they said we needed to stop talking about it, I stopped, and made sure not to engage when my coworkers tried to bring stuff up. They might still talk about it to each other but they don’t to me. I’ve insulated my work as much as possible from her mistakes and have resigned myself to the fact that it’s not going to change, but that doesn’t make it any less demoralizing or frustrating.

  18. SA*

    #2. Often good employees leave or get fired because they’re sick of the gossip or being gossiped about themselves. It’s pathetic to see adults acting like children in middle school then these same people whine about how their lives never seem to go anywhere. Ironically when I was asked about this I kept my opinion to myself and proceeded to ask them why they don’t talk to the people they have issues with instead of bad-mouthing them behind their backs?

    I think the previous manager was let go most likely due to the gossipers. I’ve personally found that many who gossip and make excuses for not doing their work generally try to manipulate upper management in some way. When you see this run, don’t walk to a job center or out of the building. These companies are doomed to fail and gossip is just one of several red flags. I think this new manager should most likely be on the lookout for another job. Not only are you at a disadvantage at a new job because you have no allies there, but you have to navigate office politics too. The more you listen and the less you speak the better off your position is. It’s best to be viewed as Switzerland instead of the USA in most offices.

    I’ve dealt with office parasites like #1 and annoying gossip in #2 and have found it’s best to move on. Either you’ll feel you have to stoop to their level which never works or you’ll end up being treated horribly by your coworkers for not being a Bitchy Betty. When going to work I want to be upbeat and positive, not worrying about who is going to say something horrible about a coworker.

  19. Ann Furthermore*

    #1: I’ll admit I was surprised by the response because my inclination would be to let the new boss form his or her own opinion before saying anything. I would feel strange talking to a new manager after such a short time, because I would think that the new manager would think I was doing it for personal reasons.

    The one time I tried to speak up and bring concerns like to my manager’s attention, it backfired on me. And it was legitimate concerns, not my personal issues with him. I’d been hearing from many people that this person (my manager) was rubbing people all over the company the wrong way by being too cocky and aggressive, and accepting every meeting invite that came his way and then never showing up for any of them. So I decided that if it was me, I’d want to know, so I brought this up to my director (his boss), and she smacked me down and told me to focus on my own work and stop being a tattle-tale.

    That boss and I did not get along at all. Later, after I’d moved on, and talked to some other people on the team, we all decided that he had probably been given an unfair, one-sided view of his team by the director and CFO. They both had very unrealistic expectations, and refused to see that the team was drowning under the existing workload and staffing levels, and simply told us to work more hours to get everything done — when everyone was already working at least 50 hours a week. So they told this manager he was inheriting a team of slackers, and that’s how he treated us.

    It’s very easy to say that you’ll reserve judgement and draw your own conclusions, but how many of us would be able to do that after someone has given you an earful of what they think? I probably couldn’t, and I don’t think that manager could either. And that set the tone for his relationship with the whole team, which was quite contentious….with everyone he managed, not just me.

  20. OP #5*

    Thanks for answering my letter, Alison!

    Before I applied to this job listing, I’d never seen any jobs that were for a certain number of months or *less* dependant on something else, so I was confused and wondered if there were different expectations for when the temp worker could leave. Your clarification helps a lot–it makes me feel better to apply to jobs when I know what will be expected of me if I’m asked to interview or offered a job.

  21. OP #4*

    Thanks for the answer, Alison! Clearly my ask was not as juicy as the gossip topics, but I thought I’d tack on an update anyway.

    I decided a few weeks ago to apply for the position first (and asking about the raise later). During the check-in, my supervisor ended up letting me know that I’d already been approved for a raise. We talked about the internal promotion and what she thinks my growth areas are, as well as what I might be able to do in the role.

    The conversation and a follow-up today went really well, and so far the process has made me appreciate my supervisor even more. I feel like she’s being honest and supportive, and she has made it clear that she’s thinking about growth opportunities for me whether or not I get the promotion.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Thanks for coming back with an update! Sounds like things are going really well with the raise and the possible promotion. That’s great to hear!!

  22. Gilby*

    I am in the same boat. They hiring manager and HR made it clear that my position was a seasonal position and will end around the end of Dec.
    The work I am doing is NOT seasonal work and I know for a fact that it is stuff that needs to be done all the time not just for Nov- Dec.
    However I am going by what they said about end dates ( even though my contract paperwork has no end date) and have already sent out resumes.

    I will stay until they need me be it the end of Dec or longer or leave when I get a job elsewhere.

  23. Tara T.*

    That is a smart idea, Jamie, about learning the Excel during any downtime on temp jobs (if ok with the company). It is true that there is always something to learn when it comes to Excel. In your other post, about the Reception, IT, and Maintenance, and them always knowing what is going on – that is a smart idea also.

  24. Working Girl*

    #2 gossiping – Managers need to stay out of gossiping – the staff seems to believe you are willing to gossip with them – that is not good management – tell them if they bring you a problem, bring along with it a possible solution and be prepared for the other person to be brought into the discussion. Also, straight out let them know all team members are valued and you don’t want to hear pettiness, you want to hear how we call all work together better.

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