Creating a thriving workplace culture that values diversity, encourages inclusion, and promotes professionalism can be challenging, but it IS possible. With the right tools and strategies, you can create a work environment where employees are highly motivated and productive without dealing with workplace drama or negative employee behavior. Knowing the difference between unproductive venting and complaining versus resolving issues through proactive problem-solving is essential for creating a healthy workplace culture.Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
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Whether you're a CEO, manager, or business owner, knowing how to redirect nonproductive behaviors while empowering individuals to lead themselves is imperative. The key is emotional intelligence.
What Is Workplace Drama?
Let’s get on the same page. What is workplace drama, and what are common negative behaviors?
Typically, workplace drama stems from emotional drama. It is exaggerated, repetitive, and prolonged unproductive behavior by employees. This behavior includes mental storytelling that distorts the facts and exaggerates emotions. It is all unnecessary conflict or tension between employees (e.g., a person is unwilling to listen to others’ ideas or actively perpetuates conflict by not responding to emails or requests from co-workers).
Workplace drama includes behaviors that do not align with company values or support the highest and best interests of individuals, teams, or the company. These types of behaviors work against teamwork, productivity, and synergy.
Examples of Emotional Drama in the Workplace
- Excessive chit-chat;
- Inordinate time spent discussing problems without decisions or action;
- Indirect communication, such as involving co-workers inappropriately in issues about others that are best handled directly with the person or manager;
- Complaining and gossiping;
- Emotional outbursts;
- Defensiveness or resistance to change and feedback;
- Venting, blaming, complaining, or exaggerating problems;
- Unhelpful criticism, or subtle and derogatory comments that deflate creativity and team unity;
- Subtle or blatant negative comments about fellow employees, managers, and leaders;
- Tattling or passing the buck, for instance, “I missed the deadline because he/she/they didn’t get the project to me in time.”
- Asserting power inappropriately, e.g., interrupting or talking over a co-worker.
These behaviors have varying degrees and frequency, but they will degrade productivity and deplete a safe and cohesive company culture whenever tolerated.
Related reading: “Why Emotional Intelligence Is Crucial in Business Today.”
Why Workplace Drama Is Bad for Business
First, emotional drama and negative gossip or complaining are major time busters in small and large companies alike. And the financial implications of workplace drama are considerable.
Studies show that the average cost of workplace drama worldwide is $364 billion annually. The National Business Research Institute estimates that an average of 2.8 hours per week are wasted on workplace drama. However, in consulting with companies, I've found the time and emotional waste in companies much higher!
Other consequences of workplace drama are lowered morale, reduced productivity, higher stress levels, and increased turnover rates. Gossip is one of the most damaging forms of workplace drama because it can cause serious rifts between co-workers and create an atmosphere of distrust and ill will.
Therefore, it is imperative leaders learn how to redirect employees’ unproductive behaviors and identify where they themselves may be inadvertently contributing to workplace drama.
Common Reasons Leaders Tolerate Employee Drama
- Leaders allow themselves to engage in unproductive or unhelpful behaviors, such as emotional outbursts. So, they don’t feel they can expect what they aren’t modeling.
- The leadership team is overloaded (doing three people’s work or wearing multiple hats) which gives them insufficient time to set effective and consistent boundaries.
- Leaders are afraid of hurting feelings, offending employees, and losing talent.
- Leaders are too kind in an attempt to model acceptance and inclusion. They have striven to create a friendly "family" environment without clearly defined roles and accountability.
- Managers and leaders don't have the emotional intelligence skills to know how to redirect employee drama.
To eliminate emotional drama and create synergy and team spirit instead, leaders and managers must create an environment that values emotional intelligence and accountability.
It's up to you to create a working environment where employees feel respected, valued, and empowered, AND are held accountable to a high standard of behavior and performance.
How to Know the Difference Between Venting and Resolving
The best way to know if an employee is venting unproductively is that they feel better afterward—and you will feel worse.
When people are only interested in complaining or airing their burdens, they dump and leave. There is typically no mention of how they contributed to the outcome nor do they offer any possible solutions. Dump and leave.
Another symptom of venting is repetition. You’ll hear the same story or complaint multiple times. You can usually guess what’s coming out of their mouth next—because you’ve heard it before!
Don’t let your employees off the hook that easy. Require them to tell you how they contributed to the dynamic or result and what they recommend as a resolution. If they are unable to give suggestions, ask them to think about it and get back to you tomorrow. Then follow up if they don’t report back!
This practice discourages tattling and enhances greater self-awareness of the areas where employees are not taking accountability. Your unwillingness to be a dumping ground also helps them be more mindful of their words and emotions.
You must be willing to hold your employees to the challenge of being their best selves individually and as team players—which raises the quality of your teams and company exponentially.
Related reading: “Why Companies Fail without Leaders with Emotional Intelligence.”
Keys to Eliminating Workplace Drama While Encouraging Accountability
Emotional intelligence is an inside job that begins with greater self-awareness. However, we can’t change if we don't know a better way, so here are five ways to build emotional fitness and eliminate workplace drama.
Setting expectations for behavior in the workplace is essential for maintaining a positive, professional environment. Ensure that all employees understand what acceptable behavior is, what it isn’t, and the consequences when drama derails projects and consumes inordinate time.
Employee accountability is the best path to drama-free business culture.
Related reading: "How to Actually Encourage Employee Accountability."
Emotional intelligence (EQ) skills are key to creating effective leaders and managers, productive employees, and well-functioning teams.
One way to ensure high EQ in your company culture is to rehabilitate most people's negative meaning of conflict. Many dislike it, and some avoid it at a high cost to a company's bottom line.
Since there are very few examples of healthy conflict resulting in win-win outcomes, these myths have taken root and can often be seen as “normal.”
Here are some examples of unhelpful views of conflict:
- Conflict is scary.
- People will get upset with me if I disagree.
- Conflict will resolve itself when left alone.
- It’s easier to comply.
- If I agree, they’ll learn the hard way.
Conflict is inevitable in life and work. And when we meet conflict with a sincere desire to understand each other’s perspective, win-win resolutions come quickly. Mastering the skill of conflict resolution is critical for conflict to be desensitized and befriended. We are at ease when we are armed with mastery.
So, shift the focus of your leadership to building the skills required for mastery. Approach conflict like you would a desired and well-thought-out adventure!
As author, CY Wakeman, explains, “The drama and the resulting costs can be avoided when we make an active commitment to move through the world more skillfully.”
Honest, direct communication is paramount for effective problem-solving and productive outcomes. Give employees a platform to have meaningful conversations and openly share their thoughts and ideas without fear of repercussions.
When employees come to you complaining about their co-worker or manager, there are several ways to handle this situation:
- Ask them how they will resolve that challenge.
- Insist they handle the complaint directly with the person and report back to you.
- Hold a meeting together with all employees involved to brainstorm and decide the best way forward.
Related reading: "Workplace Woes: How to Deal with a Difficult Co-Worker."
In the fairytale of Chicken Little, an acorn falls on Chicken Little’s head, and the conclusion is that the sky is falling. This fable helps to make an essential point in workplace culture: “The sky is not falling!”
Emotionalism and drama are based on misinterpretation, exaggeration, and preoccupation with personal reactions. Of course, it’s human nature to interpret and draw conclusions based on our own experiences. However, to decrease drama in the workplace, take the emotionalism out by empathizing with feelings briefly, then ask for the facts from your employees. Beware of spending a truckload of time on things that only need a 5-minute exchange. Treat your employees as adults, not children. Be a leader, not a counselor.
Related reading: "Successful Companies Are Led by Solid Empathetic Culture."
As a leader, manager, or business owner, it is vital to lead by example and show employees the behavior you expect from them. Be patient, kind, communicative, and respectful in your interactions with employees while addressing drama quickly and decisively. A low-tolerance policy for drama is crucial.
The most powerful leverage in any company is modeling. It’s difficult to hold others accountable for what we are unwilling to live and model as leaders. Once you accept this responsibility, leading gets easier.
Secondly, isolate the specific behaviors that match the values of your company and the desired culture you are aiming for. Then, lock in accountability for all employees by building processes that measure progress and alignment with your company values!
As you can see, the company culture reflects not only its values but how well leaders hold themselves and their employees accountable to living those values.
Deep dive: “How to Take Care of Your Greatest Resouce in Business.”
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