A troublesome employee stirring up conflict needs to be dealt with before everyone’s work suffers.
Some days, working for a small business can feel a bit like you stepped back into high school. There are fights between co-workers and silly rumors that waste your time and energy. For as many toilets as we own, A Royal Flush is still technically a small business. We have a full-time office staff of around 20 to 25 people depending on the time of year. When your staff is that small and people aren’t getting along, trust me, their problems somehow become yours.
Our office consists of two floors. The bottom floor of our building houses the customer service department, which employs around 10 people, mostly women. We have an open floor plan that allows co-workers to work together easily. This also means little privacy, which can lead to big drama at times.
For the past few years, we have had an employee that liked to “stir the pot.” Whenever there was a problem, you could generally follow the trail right to her desk. The most frustrating part of this story is that she was originally a great worker and handled the busiest desk in our office. But she just couldn’t stay out of other people’s business.
My first attempt to stop the conflicts was to meet with her directly. I talked to her about her work and discussed if she was happy with her job. I didn’t want to accuse her of starting the office problems, so instead I stressed how important it was for a senior employee to set a good example and how I needed her help with the newer staff by sharing all of her knowledge.
Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the conflicts. My next attempt at a “peace treaty” was to have a floor meeting. I foolishly believed that giving everyone a chance to air their grievances would allow us to discuss these problems and then be done with them. Sort of a “speak now or forever hold your peace” meeting. As you can imagine, no one wanted to be the one to talk in front of the group, so this didn’t fix the problems either.
Another attempt was to rearrange all the desks. The goal was to move her, but I also tried to pick a strong person to be placed next to her in hopes they wouldn’t be affected by the gossip. When this didn’t work, I rearranged again.
When none of these things helped, I had no choice but to let her go. Over the years, her constant gossiping had led to her work becoming error-filled and she was no longer my strongest employee.
I don’t believe that firing someone is the only way to stop office conflicts, but in this case, I just couldn’t turn her around. I will say that since she left, the office is more peaceful and much happier. This was a really tough decision because I depended on her for a lot of my larger contracts, and this was a big job to fill. But I would rather spend my time training a new, happier person to fill this role than to constantly put out fires and clear up gossip. In the end, a productive and happy day is the best kind of workday I can have.
About the author: Alexandra Townsend is co-owner of A Royal Flush, based in Philadelphia.