We reside in a society that is fascinated, if not obsessed, with the private lives of other people. Much of that has been proven with high TRP ratings of shows like Big Brother and Big Boss. Even offices are not spared with this obsession. When the employee discussion besides the coffee machine results in a personal attack on an employee, it causes lots of problems for not only the individual employees involved, but also the remaining staff. But, a friendly banter and gossip are two different things.
Let’s try to understand the difference between casual discussion, gossip and grapevine.
Discussion v/s Gossip v/s Grapevine
|A friendly work related talk keeping the references of other people in a general, friendly and supportive manner.||Gossip is an informal talk where the speaker adopts a confidential tone and is using the information about somebody else in center stage and will impart the information in such a way that it affects the credibility of the other person.||A less informal conversation than gossip related to general change happening within the workplace.|
|The speaker is not obsessed with picking holes in another person’s character, but is merely imparting information about other people or person have done related to the work in hand.||The details provided by the speaker may be given with moralizing undertones and character assassination, which would be the agenda of the gossip.||It is less personal than gossip, but is equally damaging and demoralizing.|
|The motivation behind a discussion is to indulge in work-related conversation and to enlighten the listener about the same||The motivation behind gossips include boosting, overstatement, and me-versus-them mentality.||Usually grapevine happens in an
unpredictable environment fuelled by fright, lack of communication from top management and wild estimates by the staff.
As you can see from the above differentiation, Gossip is the most insidious of the three.
But exactly how does gossip harm the workplace environment?
Negative Effects of Workplace Gossip
Workplace gossip can have an adverse effect on the person being gossiped about and the entire workplace:
- Progressive loss of morale and trust amongst employees being gossiped about.
- Hampers the workplace productivity; as employees engage in the gossip drama like a college student. This results in hush-hush chatter around the cubicles which results in wasted man hours.
- There is anxiety and tension all around as employees are not sure about the truth.
- Unexpected employee turnover and loss of good talent due to toxic work environment.
Naturally, you would want a culture of gossip in your organization. Here are some effective steps to eliminate workplace gossip.
According to a Robert Half Report, “More than half of workers polled said gossip is the most common form of office politics.” As a HR manager, you need to take the right steps to eliminate workplace gossip with a little bit of dedication and work.
1. Create a no tolerance policy to discourage workplace gossip
Have a no tolerance policy on workplace gossip in place that keeps employees from revealing key organizational information to their colleagues. For example; if a manager fails to protect confidential information pertaining to downsizing and it spreads amongst the entire workplace resulting in gossip, then that manager has to face the risk of disciplinary action or even termination.
2. Never engage in gossip
Lead by example by being a good role model for others to follow by not engaging in workplace gossip ever. Be decisive and walk away or change the subject when you come across any gossip. This way you will be communicating a strong message to other employees that workplace gossip will not be tolerated.
3. Encourage open communication amongst all teams in the organization
It has been observed that gossip starts when there is no open communication with the top level management and the grievances of the employees are not addressed. So, the best thing to correct this situation is by creating a culture of openness and team bonding exercises wherein top employees of the month are rewarded and positive aspects of the organization are discussed. By adopting a culture of civility, you can train your employees by making them go through programs on how to communicate effectively, cultivating leadership traits etc.
It is also very important for you to conduct background screening for all future employees and rescreening current employees to avoid these problems from the beginning. You can even conduct 360 degree employee survey to gauge their strengths and weaknesses to improve their overall work performance.
4. Ask employees never to discuss their private life in the office
Ask the employees to never share their personal life with someone from the office. It is the ultimate fodder that gossip mongers are after. Never give them the power to have the control over anyone’s life.
5. Hear the gossip monger and then try to find out a solution
Often gossips are created by those employees who were never heard. The best thing to do is such situations is to have a real and frank discussion with the employee who was responsible for spreading the gossip. When you hear out the gossip monger it can lead to a path of truth, trust and open communication. Always appreciate the courage shown by the gossip monger to come out in the open to accept the truth. Listen to their grievances with empathy without judging. Never use the information provided by the gossip monger against them. Once you have dug out the entire facts thank them genuinely and take appropriate steps to resolve their concern in an amicable manner.
6. Spread positive success stories in the workplace
Spread positive success stories of individual employees in the workplace by reinforcing a strong team bond, and recognizing talent rather than money; thereby improving the morale of your organization. Hold individual meetings with each employee of different departments and share positive success stories with each one of them. Have an achievement wall where employee accomplishments can be posted. Always create an atmosphere of trust by holding positive conversations with each employee.
In the end, it has to be said that communication within the organizational hierarchy is the key to eliminate workplace gossip completely. Inculcate a culture that fosters employees to express their concerns, raise doubts and make relevant suggestions. This way you will be able to get rid of workplace gossip completely.
cFIRST Think Tank is the team that researches and produces content for cFirst. This team comprises of seasoned content and digital design professionals and background screening industry veterans. Together we produce insightful blogs, infographics and reports meant for HR and background screening professionals.