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Office politics

07 March 2011

Gossip, rumour, innuendo, leaked emails, illicit affairs, insider trading - if not managed properly, office scandals can do detriment to a business's reputation and that of its employees.

Organisational Change Management and Communication specialist Karen Williams explains how to recover. Scandals are simply a distraction, yet left unchecked they have the potential to cause major economic losses to a business in terms of lost time, productivity , revenue and even customer dissatisfaction.

Karen states the first logical step is to identify the problem - which is usually the result of observing an incident. In worst-case scenarios, there is a bit of a 'blow up' in the office; someone resigns in spectacular fashion, employee's bear witness to an unprofessional spat across the boardroom table, an email trail turns nasty.

\"Office scandals create a unique energy, something of a 'buzz', within an organisation. Tongues start wagging, emails start flying, there is a heightened state of awareness and consciousness around the people involved.\" said Karen.

On a more subliminal level, a manager might observe staff not talking to each other or avoiding working together.

The office grapevine is a conduit for gossip, rumour and innuendo, so if a manager does not observe the incident directly, he / she will generally hear about it (if it is big enough).

\"The reality for those involved in the scandal is that, eventually, the story will surface. Passionate liaisons in the tea room, saucy emails, crooked account keeping or political set-ups - these kinds of things are too big for people to keep to themselves. Eventually people come out or are found out.\" said Karen.

The first step a manager needs to take is to acknowledge the problem. Second, determine if an intervention is required.

\"Intervention techniques and timing vary depending on an organisation's size and culture. As a rule of thumb however if the scandal has reached a manager's ears, action is required,\" said Karen, \"If appropriate, be open in admitting there has been an incident and don't try to just sweep it under the carpet.

If charged with resolving the issue as a result of it being your staff, it is important to speak separately with each of the main protagonists. Grab a coffee, take each party off-site, sit, listen. Best practice also is to have a confidential chat with someone who works in between the sparring parties in order to obtain an independent observation of what's going on.

Whatever the nature or size of the scandal, it is well advised to nip it in the bud and the sooner, the better.

\"You don't want that scandal spilling into the public or for your clients to become aware of problems.

This is an absolute professional 'no-no'.\" said Karen.

If parties are at each other's throats, be sure that they are not exposing themselves to clients. Similarly, it does not help the internal culture if an issue blows up, in which case suddenly whole departments / divisions are at each other's throats instead of just one or two people.

Be open and up front with your staff and if necessary and appropriate, call a special whole team meeting. Get them in a room together (or at least the key managers), acknowledge there has been an incident, and discuss it to the extent that is absolutely necessary only.

Explain that you are pleased with those who maintained professionalism and demonstrated commitment to keeping 'business as usual' through an unusual / tricky / difficult time. Be prepared before you go the meeting with your view of how you want to move forward. Gain advice from your key advisors, including HR, Legal and PR. Back up your expectations in writing - after the meeting send a 'whole of staff' email to confirm the outcomes of the meeting and to reaffirm your expectations and corporate values.

Put the issue to bed and get back to focussing on your core business. If you are committed and clear about what it is your company is about, you can ride through it. Gauge the recovery process by having a couple of 'over the water cooler' conversations with some key managers.

For more information please contact:

Prue Leng

Red Agency

P: 07 3837 3874


Karen Williams

Message Stix

P: 0412 683 681





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