What the heck can you do about staff that bring their personal lives into the office?
I've not got much complaint with those that have some problem at home and go through the channels for a bit of counseling. I could do without it, but it seems to go with the territory of managing staff.
My gripe is with the drama queens that revel in their misery and share it with everyone. And once they get a dose of attention for their genuine misfortune, they get addicted. If there doesn't happen to be any real misery to share, they'll create some! And suck anyone within earshot into their personal web.
I've just been through the most ghastly run of personal politicking, whisper campaigns and ornery bitchiness at the office. Based on lies or, at best, half truths. And it's so difficult to stop.
It took a pile of meetings to get anything near the truth out. Big meetings with all the admin staff, coaxing out who said what to whom, about whom, and where they heard it. In front of each other so that everyone was hearing the same story - not the version that suited any particular audience around at the time. And not one round, many rounds. A horrendous waste of time.
One-on-one meetings were a total waste of time. I just got conflicting stories and little opportunity to "challenge the evidence." With nothing reliably substantial, the information you glean is useless.
Pulling in two conflicting parties didn't help much either. Inevitably some third person would be implicated - generally one conveniently not available at the time - and trying to close out the matter would stall.
At one point I got sick and tired of trying to unravel it. I stamped my foot and said gossiping hours coincided with lunch breaks and tea breaks - in normal working hours I wanted production. Period. But that didn't work. Whispers and slipped messages continued flying around.
Then I thought I'd just let it run until everyone got sick and tired of it and would out the real culprit. Well no-one outed the culprit, but we did have some meetings where everyone mentioned that they were sick and tired of all the gossip and politicking.
By then I'd narrowed it down to two individuals. Everyone else was participating, but there were two definite "activists" who were actively stoking the fires.
But now what?
All this was "non-business." Its foundation had nothing to do with business. It was gossip and activism on non-business stuff. Or stuff really out on the periphery.
"He looked at me funny. She doesn't like me. When I gave him an extra job, he complained. She doesn't treat me with respect. He didn't greet me this morning. She gave me my worksheet without looking at me." And that's just the stuff that had some foundation in truth.
"I'm pregnant with his baby" got my attention, but it wore off after a while as the usual visual manifestations of such a disaster failed to materialise. The second time this particular one was tried, it was all I could do to stop myself from going "Congratulations."
Peripheral and vague, there was nothing substantial enough to start any kind of disciplinary process.
With such a protracted period of misery, the resignations started coming in.
Sadly, one of the good ones was the first to leave. I can't blame her. She relied on a lift from a fellow staff member's boyfriend, who's sister's boyfriend was brother of.... or was it....
Oh heck! There was some sort of out-of-office connection, alright.
And whenever the sister fought with the sister of the brother (are you following this), the lift service became unavailable and she had to rely on the uncle of her cousin twice removed to get her to work until someone's period was over which was a massive problem. Or something like that.
No. 2 was one of the activists. Disappeared with a letter of resignation discovered the next morning. The misery continued, but with far less creative effort in making the divisions stronger. Clearly not the source, but a willing amplifier.
At the core of it was one rotten apple.
Without the confusion of the secondary influence, the source of our misery soon stood out like a sore thumb. But by now there was no stopping her. She had all in thrall with her drama. I tried to get the staff to ignore her appeals for attention, without success. But by now I was sick of the whole affair. I ignored it - and perhaps that was the seed of her downfall.
She attempted the ultimate gambit for attention and tendered her resignation. I accepted.
I heard after that she had not expected me to accept the resignation. She had expected me to ask why, and get all the details, and pay attention - get sucked in. Even to her last day, there seemed to be this expectation among the staff that I would open the door, counsel her and that she would stay. It never came.
Three days after her leaving, my office administrator commented "How peaceful it is in the office" - and it was. Bliss.
There were aftershocks of course. After hearing of a weekend of drama queen telephone calls to various previous coworkers, I had a full admin meeting where all the stories came out, and suddenly everyone understood. They'd been played. All subsequent attempts at contact were ignored.
When our drama queen came round to collect her end-of-service paperwork, the fact that the game was up didn't stop her trying. First she wanted me to understand, and she's so sorry, and please could she have her job back. Unfortunately she had already been replaced
Then she wanted to apologise to each member of staff for sucking them into her life - and of course in the midst of the apology came the latest juicy and disturbing updates, trying to suck them in once more. It took yet another full emergency meeting, with drama queen present to find her former playthings unified against her, to stop the whole disaster moving off premises.
Last I heard she now wants nothing to do with the company and any of the staff. No doubt the message will be repeated ad nauseum via text, email and MxIT to all and sundry, but it seems the feeling is mutual.
The silver lining.
I don't think anyone won anything, except maybe some peace at long last. But there is a silver lining.
There's a sense of camaraderie that wasn't there before, at least not as strong as this.
This could well be the personnel core of a move to the next level.
Best of all, I've now got a battle-hardened core ready for the next emotional vampire that crosses the threshold.