Challenging Workplace Gossip

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Administrators, managers, and supervisors often ignore gossip and rumors. If a malicious rumor about an employee goes unaddressed, the victim can start to feel isolated and betrayed. The resulting damage can be crippling to an organization and therefore must be resolved through swift and decisive action. Even if it's not malicious, office gossip kills camaraderie and morale. It's also a way for teams to avoid focusing on the essential functions of their assignments. Left unchecked, gossip breeds resentment and becomes a roadblock to effective communication and efficiency. Office gossip and workplace rumors can also have a profound effect on the organization’s bottom line. 

So how do you prevent workplace gossip? As a manager you can develop strategies for recognizing and investigating gossip in the workplace. That means that the CEO and upper management must convey to everyone that office gossip won't be tolerated, and that everyone is going to be held accountable. Success will be determined by your style of managing. If you are one to stay in the office with only limited interaction with your employees, then gossip will be easy to miss. Engage your employees in conversation at various points during the day/week in an effort to get the pulse of the group. Having a well-balanced rapport with your employees will ensure their comfort in communicating with you. 

Preventing Gossip in the Workplace 

  • Managers and supervisors can address office gossip in a number of ways. First, make it clear to staff that gossip is not appropriate in your department. You can do this at staff meetings. Or, when you observe someone engaging in gossip, an effective response might be: “It’s not productive or fair to talk about people when they aren’t present. So if we can’t talk about something else, then we need to get back to work.” 
     
  • Second, improve departmental communication. Gossip tends to occur when there is an absence of official information that leads employees to speculate or circulate rumors. By keeping staff better informed and being more open about workplace issues, you can remove the tendency to create false information to fill the gap. This could include explaining decisions and behaviors that may appear inconsistent or secretive. Follow-up by providing your employees with safe, non-judgmental ways of dealing with serious, hurtful rumors, like a confidential suggestion box or an open door policy. The more transparent the process and the more feedback you give, the better. After all, gossip doesn't tend to go very far if the answer to "Have you heard the latest?" is always "Yes, I have." 
     
  • Third, if you identify employees who are at the forefront of the gossip or rumor-mills, talk with them individually and privately. Explain the damage and problems caused. Make it clear that even listening to gossip is not acceptable or professional. If the problem continues, you may need to make this a performance issue, since it can affect productivity and effectiveness. 
     
  • Finally, to prevent rumors from spiraling out of control, it's also a good idea to teach employees how to address or deflect gossip on their own through the use of diplomatic confrontation. Gossips will frequently think twice about doing it again if they're faced with the prospect of repeating their rumors directly to the subject, or needing to explain their behavior to upper management.