Gossip in the workplace is no new phenomenon. Most, if not all, workplaces experience the throws of gossip – between management, employees, and administrative staff. Whether it be a partial truth, or a completely false statement, word can spread fast throughout offices. Sometimes it is harmless banter about who will get the new management position, or employees of the week, other times it can pose a risk to the overall morale and standing of the business. Toxic gossip can put careers on the line. Hence, it is vital to put in place a management strategy for gossip in the workplace.
When is Gossip Bad?
Alicia Bassuk and Claire Lew explain in the Harvard Business Review that 90% of all conversations are essentially gossip. And it’s not all just in face-to-face conversation – 15% of work emails are of the rumour-starting nature.
However, not all gossip is necessarily bad gossip. In fact, recent research from the University of California found that the occasional gossip helps us to police negative behaviour, lessen stress levels, and even thwart exploitation. Psychologist Robb Willer, one of the researchers, explains that gossip actually holds a pretty key role in the upkeep of social order. However, when gossip reaches the point where it is affecting workplace function, eroding relationships between colleagues and damaging reputations, action needs to be taken.
Managing Gossip in the Workplace
It’s important that managers put their foot down when it comes to gossip. Having a management strategy for gossip is essential in ensuring employees know when they’ve taken it too far.
One very important point to note is that most gossip is born from uncertainty. As humans, when we don’t know something, our minds instantly start making assumptions. A lack of clarity on a certain topic creates a large hole in our minds, which we will fill with our own version of the truth if we aren’t provided one. Hence, the most effective way put gossip at bay is to be open and honest with your employees at all times.
Below, we outline the best ways to manage gossip at work, as explained by Bassuk and Lew.
Keep employees in the know
Any large change within a business is bait for the rumour mill. If you’re closing an office, letting go of a manager, or restructuring a sector, clear and honest communication with employees is vital. The quicker you let staff know how, when, and why this is happening, the less chance they have to come up with their own ideas. Bassuk and Lew outline how this works with an example.
“Before merging with another business, Clare, the CEO of a large consumer good business, brought her team together to run through the process. In the meeting, Joe laid out in great detail the financial situation, the timeline, and what the changes meant internally. Throughout the merger, instead of gossip regarding the future, Joe’s well-informed team came together as a cohesive unit to give their best effort to this change.”
Chat to your team
Your employees are the ones who are going to be experiencing – and discussing – the repercussions of any decisions made by management. Hence, Bassuk and Lew recommend checking in with staff any time a change is made. For example, let’s say your business needs to cut costs, and the decision has been made to gradually remove a department over the course of a year. This decision will likely upset many staff. So, management should continue checking in with staff throughout the transition. You should be asking questions like:
– How do other employees feel about the changes?
– Is there a way management could be handling the transition better?
– Is there more information employees would like regarding the transition?
By querying these issues with staff along the way, you will be letting your staff know that you do in fact value their input. Furthermore, giving staff a platform to channel their thoughts will lessen the inclination to negatively discuss the company with other staff.
Encourage healthy workplace relationships
Negative gossip has the potential to degrade team unity in a heartbeat – just one overheard rumour can be detrimental to the cohesion of an entire department. However, the more co-workers know each other, the less likely they are to start false and malicious rumours about each other. Hence, Bassuk and Lew recommend that managers encourage their staff to get to know each other in a higher capacity than just co-workers. They explain that managers can help to foster this bond by:
– Holding company outings and events
– Playing fun icebreakers each time your team meets
– Organising one-on-one coffee dates or lunches
Practice what you preach
Staff will always look to CEOs and managers for the example of how to behave at work. You simply cannot request that staff keep conversation positive if you yourself are talking negatively about other management staff. If employees can see that you really do try hard to remain honest, keep conversation positive, and act genuinely, they are far more likely to mimic these behaviours themselves. Make a comment when you hear conversation headed towards the rumour-mill, and keep facts the priority in all your conversations. Furthermore, you can cement your expectations by creating codes of conduct, and hanging them in your office or in a main space.
Gossip has the potential to wreak havoc in your workplace, but you don’t have to let it. Encourage open and honest communication, foster employee relationships, ask for feedback, and be the role model for the behaviour you expect. These steps will help keep gossip in the workplace at bay, and will ensure a happier, more efficient team.