WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo)

I have a member of staff who is always gossiping and using her mobile to talk to friends. What should I do about it?

It looks as if a good long chat is needed. But this does raise some interesting issues. Is gossiping a waste of staff time when people should be hard at work? Should we stamp it out, or is conversation an essential way to maintain relationships in an organisation?

A recent Government report based on a survey of 100 nurses showed that "gossiping with colleagues was an ideal cure for stress". Is our attitude to gossip the baleful effect of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism? In France it takes the first hour just to kiss everyone and go through the latest gossip - and then it's time for cafe noir and a croissant. Certainly their productivity does not seem to suffer.

People are not work robots. You can spend far too much time hunched over a computer. Gossip plays an essential and legitimate part in shaping a happy and sane workplace. And of course, gossip can have its positive side. After all, what leader hasn't picked up on a piece of gossip to help shape a developing policy, or to interpret a warning signal of trouble ahead.

Of course, it is a question of balance. It sounds like this person is gossiping at the expense of delivery. I suspect what you have not told me is that her performance is poor. And are other people complaining about it?

Therefore, when you have your chat, you must detail how much time she spends on the phone engaging in general chit-chat. Then hone in on whether she is meeting her performance targets. Have you set any? If you have set demanding targets and she is meeting them - the problem may be in perceptions. If she is not delivering then you have a legitimate reason to wrist-slap. If delivery continues to be poor, a more serious discussion beckons.

You must act on this. I suspect that the situation is irritating others, not just you. There is nothing worse than working really hard to deliver your targets, only to hear a colleague sitting back and gossiping about things that have absolutely nothing to do with work. She must be advised to limit her use of a mobile phone to talk to friends while at work.

The reality in all organisations, though, is that informal networking, gossiping, friendships and liaisons do form the nitty-gritty of working relationships, whether we approve or not. So, my advice is: gossip, yes, but only in moderation. It is good to talk - but the bottom line is delivery.

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