There is nothing more insidious than people talking about you behind your back, especially when the rumor being spread about you is that you did something immoral or unethical. When you are in a leadership position, this happens all the time.
Bosses are the focus of a lot of interest on the part of employees who view them through the prism of their own psyches. Some workers hold anyone above them in disregard, either from jealousy or issues with parental figures.
Demeaning someone elses character and spreading lies and half-truths about another person goes on in too many corporate environments. When identified, witnessed or heard, those responsible for gossiping should feel some consequences from their immature behavior. Thats why I was struck by a recent story about the Hooksett (N.H.) Four in the Chicago Tribune.
The headline says Didja hear? New England town fired 4 for gossiping. The whole thing started innocently enough but thats how ugly rumors get started. According to the story, a man walked into the building department one day and after finishing his business he asked the secretary: Did you hear? Apparently the word around town was that the town administrator was having an affair with a municipal employee.
Was it true? Well, that got things started, with the secretary telling three of her
co-workers what she had just heard. One thing led to another and the four continued the conversation. They wondered whether the affair was the reason the administrator worked late into the night. Maybe it was why his purported mistress had been promoted even though there were others who had more experience.
While the women speculated about these matters, another municipal employee overheard the conversation and took it to the administrator who in turn went to the town council. The council launched an investigation and after interviewing many of the towns 16 employees concluded that there was nothing to the allegation.
The town administrator made it clear that the rumor was totally false and that his wife had been humiliated. Consequently, in April the council members voted to fire the four workers. The local media chose to dub the fired women as the Hooksett Four and that has continued nationally. Most of the inhabitants of Hooksett (pop. 13,000) are not happy at all with the attention the Hooksett Four matter has brought them.
The four women themselves feel they have been unfairly treated. Michelle Bonsteel, 55, a former municipal building inspector, believes that she and her three co-workers have had their lives destroyed. She says she cant find employment anywhere because employers are afraid of bad publicity.
George Longfellow, chairman of the Hooksett Town Council, spoke out about the unfortunate situation and he put things into perspective. They were malicious. It wasnt only gossip, it was slander. They tried to ruin his life and his marriage. About 420 registered voters signed a petition asking the council to restore the womens jobs, but the council rejected it.
The Hooksett Four have filed lawsuits against the town. One of them, Sandra Piper, says she cant understand her dismissal, because everyone gossips. But thats the point. Maybe we should all be more careful what we say about others in the workplace. False rumors and innuendo are destructive and mean-spirited. They hurt innocent people and their families and bring negativity to the workplace. Gossip will continue until people realize it has consequences for those who indulge in it.