7 Tips for Dealing with Gossip in the Workplace
"psss Hey did you hear about the latest gossip? "
"I'm going to tell you all about it.. just don't tell anyone you heard it from me!"
How many times have you heard a conversation like this in the workplace? A recent Better Buys survey stated, 53.7% of employees have experienced a gossiping colleague. Seemingly casual conversations, "watercooler" talk, and other office socialization, may seem harmless and most times it is. However, when the topic turns to people not present, specifically involving details that aren't true or have not been substantiated, harmless socializing turns to gossip. Gossip is a common occurrence at work and many employees find themselves involved in conversations that could be classified as gossip.
You may ask yourself, why is gossip a problem? The answer to this is the way it affects productivity and behavior in the workplace, resulting in many potential problems. Gossip can spread cynicism to others and taint interpersonal relationships. Unchecked, it can affect morale and loyalty in the workplace. Work productivity declines because of the commotion and drama of the latest story. Employees start to worry about what is and isn't true, and if they too are being talked about behind their backs. This causes the overall work atmosphere to become more nerve-wracking and stressful. There is a measured decline of trust as people choose sides. This type of work environment can even lead to the loss of exemplary employees who no longer want to deal with the toxic atmosphere. It is a big problem!
What can be done to get rid of workplace gossip? The answer is not so simple, but we seven tips for you to use to help manage gossip and direct conversations in a more positive way.
1-Do Not Fuel the Gossip Fire
This may seem simple - and in some ways it is. Being more transparent about work topics is a good way to stop that gossip. People will always be curious about who's getting a raise, when to expect bonuses, or how the business is doing. However, if this information is readily available, there is no room for speculation. By being more transparent when possible, there isn't as much fuel to add to any gossip fires.
2-Set an Example
Gossip only spreads if others are complicit. If you listen to the gossip and pass it on, you become part of the problem. The best way to prevent gossip is to ignore it altogether and never perpetuate it. For example, whenever possible keep personal information to yourself and don't share with anyone at work unless you are certain you can trust a coworker. From there, be busy and focused on your work. Instead of engaging in gossip, change the subject, or leave the conversation when gossip starts. By being a good role model for others, you're saying that gossiping isn't something you're interested in participating in and you won't tolerate it.
3-Have a Team Meeting
If you're a manager, bring up the topic of gossip at a staff meeting. If you're an employee talk about it with your boss first and suggest reviewing gossip at the next staff meeting. Once the team is together, discussing the negative consequences of gossip and explaining why it can be damaging is a good start to addressing a better work atmosphere.
4-Address the Culprits
If discussing the negative impact of gossip in a group setting and being a good example doesn't curb the bad behavior, the next step is to talk to the culprits about their behavior one-on-one. The best way to do this is in a private setting so others can't overhear - you don't want to be spreading more gossip, of course! Once you have the gossip culprit in front of you, it is important to stress that gossip is not acceptable and explain the reasons why. Use examples from their previous behavior to show how it is affecting others and disrupting work. Making them aware of the consequences of their actions may make them more amenable to improving their behavior. Make sure to be supportive and address any concerns or problems they bring up.
5-Use Gossip to Empower
Create a positive work culture by using gossip to empower. Instead of focusing on the negative, encourage positive talk. Urge others to share positive stories about work, colleagues, and customers. When you do hear negative talk, deflect it by pointing out something positive you have noticed about the person being gossiped about. A favorable remark will turn the tables and inspire others to do the same.
6-Enact a Zero-Tolerance Policy
Some companies have 'zero-tolerance' policies to protect employees. With this type of policy, if a coworker or manager divulges sensitive information about an employee, they could face disciplinary action leading to termination, especially if that information is used for gossip purposes in the office. If gossip is creating a toxic work atmosphere and nothing else is working, a zero-tolerance policy will let everyone at the office know that gossip is a serious offense and it won't be tolerated any further.
7-Take Documented Action
Along with the zero-tolerance policy comes documentation. If you still find yourself dealing with gossiping coworkers or employees who show no signs of stopping, it's time to take action! Document all complaints, official warnings, performance reviews, meetings, etc. If the gossiping is affecting work productivity, be sure to document that as well. Is the gossiping creating a negative atmosphere and affecting morale? Document it! Treat the employee as you would any difficult worker, if the time comes to let them go, you have substantial evidence backing up your decision.
Putting out the gossip fires may seem daunting. By promoting a comfortable, safe and productive work environment that encourages positive talk and having regular team-building meetings is a great place to start! We hope these tips will help you create a more positive and fulfilling work environment.
As Marie Curie said, "Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas."
Do you have additional questions about stopping gossip in your office? Feel free to schedule a free consultation.