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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Office Gossip

My issue is that I've recently had a conversation with my HR manager about what I believe to be an uncomfortable working environment. The talk made me feel better along with a few days off. However, a friend at work has informed me that some employees there were gossiping about who I am engage to. I told my HR manager and she apparently told my fiance's supervisor. I've kept it a secret for over a year for many reasons. I didn't want other employees opinions about me to affect how my fiance is treated and vise versa. I feel that the HR manager had no right to share that information with anyone. What is your opinion and how should I handle this?

I don't feel like I can really give a good, quality answer without knowing what your uncomfortable working environment was. I suspect you aren't very happy in your current job. I assume this for two reasons: 1. The "uncomfortable environment" and 2. Not telling anyone you are engaged.

Now the lack of vocalizations about the upcoming wedding are to be commended, as no one really likes a bridezilla who can't shut up about the impending nuptials. But I'm a bit concerned that you think this will affect how you are treated. It suggests that you are either violating some office romance policy or there is some objective reason why people would object to your engagement--are you too young, not yet divorced, or on your third fiance in 3 years?

But, you cry, none of this matters. The HR manager shouldn't have said anything! Well, maybe, and maybe not. HR managers aren't your lawyer, your therapist nor your priest. They aren't required by law to keep things confidential. They are, in fact, required to make some things known. Some problems cannot be solved by just listening. They require action. If you are experiencing an "uncomfortable" environment, just talking about it won't solve the problem. The environment needs to change (or you need to change). In order for that to happen, people have to be talked to.

I suspect that the "environment" problem is somehow related to your fiance. And speaking of him, what's his opinion on this whole thing? Is he as bothered as you are? If not, why not? Should you follow his lead?

Now, as to what to do--go back to the HR manager and express your concerns. Tell her that discussions of your personal life make you uncomfortable and ask what YOU can do to minimize such discussions. Please note that I put YOU in all caps because YOU are the only one you can control. Don't go up and say, "I really hate how you are out gossiping about me." This may be true, but this statement won't help you in the long run.

I am concerned, though, about continuing to work in a place where you feel so uncomfortable. If there is something illegal (sexual harrassment, for instance) going on that causes you to feel uncomfortable, then the HR manager should be taking care of it. If it's just that you don't fit in, that's not anything the company is doing wrong, it's just mismatched personalities. Keep in mind that discussions about co-workers upcoming weddings aren't harrassing, they are normal office banter. People like to talk about other people.

Other than mentioning to the HR manager that you are uncomfortable and trying to take people's discussions about your fiance in a good light, I don't have much advice for you. Perhaps some of my brilliant colleagues can help you out in the comments.


Anonymous said...

Ahhhh ... sounds like "office politics" and don't we all love that! She's kept the engagement a secret for over a year? Sounds like she doesn't want anyone to know that their relationship is close.

Had a 20-something (just out of college cute employee) dating our 40-something ceo. Did people treat her differently - yup! Of course now they are happily married, have a child ...she no longer works at the same place and all is well.

This is more of a "grow up" situation!

Anonymous said...

While I, like EHRL, applaud this person for keeping her personal life private (I have a coworker CONSTANTLY complaining about their personal life and it drives me mad), I am curious why the earth is shattering because people know about her engagement (did she hide the ring everyday - just seems like a lot of work). Eventually, people would have found out. At the very least, the HR manager would have found out because of the event (marriage is a qualifying event for changing benefits, etc). My guess is that this isn't on the up and up...perhaps her fiance is a coworker, superior, or just an odd match.

I'd take a deep breath and ask for guidance on how to handle the gossip. I'd also start looking for a new job. If there are policies being broken here, you and your fiance could (and should) be disciplined. If it's just that you don't like your office because you don't fit in, take control of your situation and change it.

jaded hr rep said...

Maybe I'm having a dense, "coffee hasn't kicked in" moment. What is the concern here - the office gossip, or that the HR Manager said something to the Supervisor? Is she considering the HR Manager's mentioning this to the Supervisor "gossip" as well (it may or may not be, given there's no context)? Confused.

This reminds me of an experience my sister had in managing a young worker who believed everyone in the office talked about her. Every time 2 people were in an office or a room, they were 'gossiping' about her. She even went so far as to interrupt and say "I know you're talking about me.." While some comments were made about this employee's paranoia (obviously caused by her own behavior), most meetings did not involve her in any way. She was a bizarre woman who did not take feedback well, and felt persecuted and/or laughed at every turn, and my sister (and others) was truly bewildered by her behavior.

HR Godess said...

From only the facts listed, the problem isn't the HR Manager (I agree with EHRL, something may have needed to be said), the issue is that the supervisor has in turn, shared this information with, what appears to be more than her fiance. If that's the case, go back to HR and explain your concerns and, as EHRL said, talk about what you can do to change the situation.

If you are really uncomfortable at work (without knowing exactly why) my question to you would be, why are you staying? Maybe staying in this position isn't the best move.

Ultimately, with limited knowledge of exactly what you are experiencing, that's the best advice I can give.

Good luck.

jaded hr rep said...

Ah ok. Re-read this and now it makes sense (it was the lack of caffeine). Unless the employee explicitly asked the HR Manager not to divulge this fact, I'm not sure the employee can take issue with the HR Manager. An engagement would not be an assumed secret by most people, and if I were working hard to keep this private I would have made sure to ask the HR Manager to be discreet about this. Not having more context in how this information came out, I'd let this go.

Kelly O said...

Aside from the whole HR Manager telling someone else, I don't see what the whole hostile work environment thing is.

The Engineer said...

Of course, if the letter writer is not female, as seems to have been assumed by everyone, then that would explain the level of concern.

jaded hr rep said...

Mmmm..I don't follow how gender has anything to do with this. If I read this note in the voice of a male writer, I have the same reaction and would offer the same response. If you're suggesting that the "gossip" was actually lewd comments, then there would still be concern regardless of gender - but the HR Manager would be the least them!

Anonymous said...

Anon number 2 here...I just read what the engineer said, and now it (perhaps) is clicking. If the issue is the fact that there might be discrimination based on sexual orientation, that's a whole 'nother can of worms. In that case, I would have been surprised that this wasn't handled differently (ie, telling the employee that others might need to be spoken to). To be honest, I quite confused and would love more info from the originator...because at this point, we're all speculating.

Anonymous said...

Does the HR Manager have a legitimate business reason for sharing this information with the supervisor of the said, fiance? HR has to make judgement calls all day long, unless you know the context and legitimate business reason, we all know that every employee likes to play monday morning HR quarterback.

Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

Does the HR Manager have a legitimate business reason for sharing this information with the supervisor of the said, fiance? HR has to make judgement calls all day long, unless you know the context and legitimate business reason, we all know that every employee likes to play monday morning HR quarterback.

Just my two cents.

Rachel - I Hate HR said...

Who you're marrying is not confidential information. Office gossip is office gossip. Get over it.

Anonymous said...

Ok I don't really feel like giving my input to this situation, because the last thing I want to do at the end of a long day is deal with more HR issues. However, I do want to give props to EHRL. I quote, "HR managers aren't your lawyer, your therapist nor your priest. They aren't required by law to keep things confidential. They are, in fact, required to make some things known." Sing it sister. I am not the office momma. Leave the drama to your momma.

HR Godess said...

That last anonymous post was great. I'll make that my new mantra!

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't think the employee has really given enough information to judge.

However, the way the leak about the wedding was represented, it sounded like, if HR needed to disclose that info, that they did not warn the employee they would do so. Which kind of sucks and is unprofessional in my opinion. Sounds like the employee was surprised to find their secret was out. Not cool. That's not treating people with respect.

HR needed to be upfront that the conversation was not confidential (While I don't think HR was the same as a confessional, I do expect courtesy and discretion and disclosure). The fact that it appears that they weren't gives me 'bad employer' vibes. Time for a new job.


Olivia Fox said...

The way I read the poster's comments, it sounds like her finace works in the same company. Perhaps her desire for secrecy is due to the worry that others will see him as getting some form of preferential treatment. Regardless, I think the HR Manager did the right thing in informing the employee's supervisor.

I had a similar situation here, and had to be sure to caution both employees about sharing information that should stay within their own department / level.

Even ASSUMING that this is how the information leaked down to other co-workers, so what? The poster can't imagine that the two of them could get/be married without co-workers eventually finding out. People will talk. It's not nescessarily negative, but if you're that sensitive about it, you shouldn't have dated someone at work! If you can't deal, find another job, since people are always going to speculate about it, the same way they will speculate about any co-worker's spouse, etc. Speculation is only intensified by knowing both partners.