Can You Ever Just Tell Two Adults to Shut Up and Go Back to Work?

A few weeks ago, a young HR generalist reached out to me.

She works for a bank. Two chicks were at war with one another, of course, because we can’t fight institutional sexism until that bitch in the next cubicle gets hers first.

And you know the story behind the drama. There was a young man involved. Accusations were made via Facebook and Twitter. Pictures were pulled from Instagram.

Lots of sniping and gossip at the office. And one woman said to the other, “If you aren’t guilty, why did you block me on Facebook?

Boom!  — whatever the hell that means.

An HR pro can’t say this — but a manager can

Everything spiraled out of control after that, because you can block someone on Twitter but it doesn’t really do much unless your profile is locked down. And you can block someone on Facebook; however, you probably should decline an invitation from a total stranger you’ve never met. (Probably the same person you just blocked, yo. Wake up.) And blocking someone on Instagram is only effective when that person is logged into Instagram.

So, this poor HR generalist asked me, “When is it okay to tell two adults to shut up and get back to work?

Believe me, I get it. It’s not like these two women work in a Chinese coal mine. Work should not be this hard.

But I said that it’s never okay for a human resources professional to tell someone to go back to work. You don’t have power to enforce it. What if they don’t get back to work? Are you going to beat them?

A manager can always say this, though.

There is another approach

I advised this young generalist to take a different approach.

Like many companies, performance metrics are captured but not regularly reviewed. She and the actual manager — the dude in charge who was totally oblivious to everything, by the way — sat down and reviewed the entire work unit. As it turns out, these two women were not performing at the same level as their peers.

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(Lazy bitches! Both of you! You busted! You busted!)

So the HR generalist and the manager worked together to document the performance issues. They created performance improvement plans for these women. Then they made the women sit through a session on civil discourse in the workforce.

(Bitches! You got yours! Now get back to work!)

Sometimes, the subtle way is the best way

Except these poor women are caught up in a very common, sad drama. And I was thinking that your local HR team would do well to create some sort of infographic or training session for new employees.

How do you deal with a broken heart at work? (My advice: Stay off the Internet.)

How do you stay focused and engaged on the job? (Again, stay off the Internet.)

How do you tolerate even the worst colleagues at the office? (One more time: Stay off the Internet.)

You can tell someone to shut up and get back to work without saying it. And sometimes the subtle approach is the most effective way to say it, too.


Laurie Ruettimann (LFR) is a former Human Resources leader turned influential speaker, writer and strategist. She owns a human resources consultancy that offers a wide array of HR services to human resources leaders and executives. Check out her LinkedIn profile here. You may know Ruettimann as the creator of The Cynical Girl and Punk Rock HR (retired), which Forbes named as a top 100 website for women. You may have also read her book, I AM HR: 5 Strategic Ways to Break Stereotypes and Reclaim HR. (RepCap Press, 2014.) 


5 Comments on “Can You Ever Just Tell Two Adults to Shut Up and Go Back to Work?

  1. The impact of Facebook and Social Media on the working world is truly awe-inspiring (in both good and bad ways). I would like to make it more for the good in the future.

  2. Hahaha, this is by far the best article I’ve read in a very long time. I was dealing with an entire office of this just a few months ago. Because I am both boss and HR Pro, I took the, “Stop gossiping and leave each other alone” route. When one started complaining about Facebook I told her to unfriend everyone. She was shocked I would make such a horrid suggestion… these are her FRIENDS. Her FACEBOOK FRIENDS. These people are 20 years older than I am, so unfortunately it’s spreading across the generations…

  3. To answer the title; absolutely! You’d think people bickering over nothing stopped in high school, but maybe some people just never grow up…

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