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Keeping a Lid on Workplace Drama

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All the world’s a stage, but your office is a place of business.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances…” (William Shakespeare)

At work however, sometimes the DRAMA can stop your production in its tracks.

Over the last year, business work environments have undergone massive change. From temporary closures, to remote working conditions to intermittent telecommuting and back again, employees have faced workplace upheaval that has amped up their stress level. When stress goes up, employees can act out, and not in any way that will win them any awards.

This stress can boil over and create vignettes of workplace drama that can stop the show. These drama disruptions can be felt throughout the entire organization and might be a symptom of a larger concern.

Consider the cost of drama in the workplace. Drama and/or conflict cost businesses millions every year.
“$359 billion in paid hours, according to one study. That’s the total price of the 2.8 hours per week U.S. employees spend dealing with workplace conflict” (Haaff, 2017).

You will see visible signs of conflict and drama in the following:

  • Disengaged Employees
  • Resignations
  • Absenteeism
  • Lack of growth and productivity

EAMPLE: Consider these numbers in terms of a small business with 100 employees.  If only 21% of employees are engaged, 79 employees are not engaged.  Calculating on an annual salary of $40,000 and $13,600 per disengaged employee (34%), employee complacency for that company costs $1,074,400; more than a million dollars –just in one year! (SOURCE)

As employees have gotten used to quieter or more isolated surroundings, coming back to a bustling workplace can be disquieting. Even the smallest noise or a raised voice can trigger a ‘scene’. Conflict between staff members over music that is too loud or battling conference calls can escalate quickly. If you aren’t tuned in as a business leader, you can’t direct your team effectively to resolve the issue.

As your team members begin to come back to a ‘normal’ work routine, it might be good to set new rules of engagement just like you did when the COVID pandemic started. You likely posted signs reminding your team to wash their hands, practice social distancing and wear their masks. Now you may have to post new signs that say. ‘Respect your neighbor, keep the volume down’ or ‘Use your inside voice please’ or “Meeting in progress” to signal to passersby that they need to be aware of their surroundings.  Remind teams to use conference spaces effectively is also a good reminder.

Yet, no measure of precautions taken, or number of rehearsals can avoid drama from flaring up. Drama develops slowly and often silently. It usually starts with one actor and spreads. Gossip is the language of drama. Spreading rumors and discontent can also fan the flames of drama. Rumors and gossip wind their way around the workplace and set people on edge. They spark outbursts and foster resentments that are often not voiced. Remember, that no message is ever heard by two people the same way. If the deliverer of the oration is adding their own flavor to the performance, feelings and egos will be bent out of shape. Once this happens, the flood gates open and drama takes hold of even those players on the wings.

It may not be rumor or gossip alone that sparks drama. Your organization may have some gaps it needs to address. If your organization has any of the following areas that need some attention, getting on script may help keep the drama under control.

  • Leaders that aren’t authentic
  • Perceived unfairness or inequities
  • Inconsistent problem-solving process and policies
  • Lack of accountability or responsibility among staff
  • Lack of transparency

While drama can’t be snuffed out completely in the workplace, it can be minimized. It takes practice and constant re-education, so your actors understand their roles and the impact they have on others. Make sure you focus on these key performance enhancers.

  1. Set clear rules of engagement
  2. Build a company culture that frowns on gossip and rumor
  3. Executives and team leaders must model the behavior their desire
  4. Reward team members modeling the right behavior
  5. Practice respect for everyone in the organization always, at all levels
  6. Don’t engage, pass, or fuel destructive discourse, rumors, or gossip. Stop it cold.
  7. Be consistent with consequences
  8. Have a resolution hierarchy clearly defined so that team members understand conflict resolution is expected to be handled at all levels
  9. Follow the chain-of-command
  10. Allow for venting and feedback if it remains positive and constructive
  11. Be aware of the unseen drama and practice management by wandering around to keep a pulse on the performance

Like a heated tea kettle, employees will make noise when they are heated. Keep the temperature down and you can ensure the curtain doesn’t come down on your show.

Building a dynamic and effective team requires focus and dedication. Working with a certified professional business coach, can get help you achieve your team goals. Find a professional business coaching at www.actioncoach.com. We are so confident you will find value that the first coaching session is on us…

ActionCOACH is the largest and most successful business coaching franchise in the world. With more than 27 years of experience, ActionCOACH has more than 1,000 coaches operating in more than 70 countries and work with more than 18,000 business just like yours everyday. Learn more today. Actioncoach.com.


Carmen Gigar is the Chief Marketing Officer for ActionCOACH Global.