I have a friend who recently started working at a new place. After she'd been there a few weeks I asked her how she liked the new job.

Employee Ownership
Cabinet Office via Compfight

She said she was struggling because of the overall demeanor of the people who worked in her department. They were always talking nasty to each other, very little courtesy, and when those particular people weren't in the office everyone else starts talking about them in the worst way possible. Even though she'd only been there a few weeks, she had the feeling that they were saying all sorts of nasty things about her also, and she was distressed by that.

The best I could tell her was that it didn't matter what others said to her if management didn't believe what others were saying, and that the only person she could control was herself. However, when we parted, I started thinking "Sigh, another workplace with bad leadership."

Why blame leadership? I'm one of those people who believes a company's culture comes from its leaders, and often funnels down from the top levels. If there's a director of a department who allows that sort of thing to go on, it's either because they encourage it or ignore it out of weakness. I won't say fear because it's possible they're clueless about what to do, but that's still a sign of bad leadership.

What they seem to miss is that they could be setting themselves up for a harassment violation. The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as:

repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is :

* Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or

* Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done, or

* Verbal abuse

This is 2016, and leadership deciding that one member of the team "can't take it" isn't going to get them off if there's a suit filed against the organization. True leaders would do something to stop this kind of harassment because, other than the 1973 Oakland A's, team members who don't get along usually don't coalesce into a winning or efficient team.

If it were up to me as a director there are some things I'd do to change the culture:

1. Immediately ban all talk about other employees during the work hours in the department. I'd make it part of the conditions of their job and a part of their job review, which would be a monthly process.

2. Tell each person that if they have a problem with someone to talk to them about it, courteously, and if they needed me to intercede that I would... but that it wouldn't necessarily mean I agree with their side of things.

3. Set up a process of communication where everyone would know what was going on with the department and could air their concerns in the open, as long as none of them were with a specific person.

4. Set up a team building process of some sort just to get things moving in a more positive direction.

5. Become a bigger presence in the office for a while (even if I had supervisors to handle that part) so everyone would know I wasn't kidding.

Truthfully, I expect employees to talk about each other; it's just what people do. However, I wouldn't allow it during work hours; that's when I need my team to act like a team and produce like a team, even if they're each individuals with their own goals. If they can't contribute to the team, which means they can't contribute to the department... they can always be replaced.

Sometimes leaders have to be ready to use that last option, no matter how good an employee might be. It's never about the individual at that point; it's about the team.

This is how I'd do things. Let me know your thoughts on this.