Having a positive atmosphere at work can make all the difference. However, some employees just don’t get along with others. And, there could be one culprit to blame: gossip.
People may not intend to harm their co-workers. However, when employees engage in gossip, they may not only be hurting co-workers but the business or organization as well. That is why stopping gossiping among employees should be a priority for leaders. In this article, we’ll give some tips on how leaders can stop employee gossip from ruining their workplace culture.
What is Workplace Gossip?
Gossip is not simply two work friends chatting about their weekend or discussing something positive about another person. In general, gossip is negative talk about a third party when that person isn’t present. Gossip can also be when someone shares information that was only meant for that person to hear. Unfortunately, this is very common in the workplace. 72% of business professionals admitted to gossiping about workplace issues or coworkers while at the office according to a new Office Pulse study.
This type of sharing can be distracting and inappropriate for the workplace, because it may be personal, intimate details about someone else’s life. These rumors can put a dent in productivity and cause harm to another person’s reputation.
Why is Gossip Bad?
For some people, the relationships made at work become vital relationships. Positive workplace relationships can boost productivity, and can even make the difference between staying at a job or seeking a different offer.
However, gossip can undermine all of this. It can create a toxic environment and make it harder for people to work together. While not all gossip is meant to be malicious, it can sometimes rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment.
Gossip can cause tension between people who know a secret, especially if they’re around the person being talked about. Gossip can also come into play at work when rumors are flying.
Also, it can put people in an awkward position as “bystanders.” It can put other employees in an awkward position if they hear negative things being said about someone that they have a positive opinion about. This tension and awkwardness can distract from what should be a positive work environment. A work environment should allow for respect and striving for basic work goals.
Overall, when employees are gossiping, leaders can expect morale to drop. You may also witness employee engagement lowering. All of which can damage the productivity of the team and the goals of the business.
How to Stop Gossip in the Workplace
Address the Issue As Soon As It Starts
One of the quickest ways to stop employee gossip is by not allowing it to get out of hand. This means addressing it as soon as it starts. Letting rumors or gossip go unaddressed not only emboldens the behavior but also lets misinformation spread. Each moment that gossip lingers is an opportunity for it to seed deeper into the company culture.
First and foremost, management needs to be vigilant and proactive. This doesn’t mean spying on employees or eavesdropping. It means being attuned to the overall atmosphere of the workplace. Changes in behavior, such as cliques forming, whispering, or noticeable tension between employees, might be a sign that gossiping is happening.
Once a potential issue is identified, managers should seek to understand the nature of the gossip. Is it related to personal matters, or is it stemming from professional concerns? Is it a baseless rumor, or is it rooted in a genuine issue that needs addressing? By getting to the core of the gossip, leaders will have a better understanding of how to prevent it from spreading.
Lead by Example
The first step to take is to assess your own behavior. If you’re in a leadership position, those within your chain of command take cues from you about what’s acceptable. Leaders who engage in gossiping are signaling to their team that workplace gossip is acceptable.
If you’re appalled that those on your team are gossiping about others, consider your own behavior. Do you gossip about team members or colleagues? Now is a great time to make some positive changes. Habits can take time to break, but acknowledging what you need to do is the first step.
Anyone in a position of authority should set the right example to help prevent gossip from happening at work. Supervisors should never participate in gossip. This is especially important, as the tone of the workplace is often set by those in higher positions. If those in leadership spots make it clear that gossip is unprofessional, this can help promote a positive work environment.
Refuse to Feed the Rumor Mill
Just like the childhood game of “telephone,” stories are repeated, and they often become distorted.
While you can’t make other people stop speaking negatively about others, you can refuse to feed the rumor mill. If you hear something inappropriate for the workplace, you can choose to stop participating in the conversation.
Also, you can deflect the conversation by changing the subject. You can also refuse to feed the rumor mill by refusing to contribute to negative discussions of people when they aren’t present to defend themselves.
You can also reduce the demand for the rumor mill by setting boundaries. As a leader, it is important to set boundaries to inform others around you about what will and will not be tolerated. For example, if you are in a meeting and the topic of conversation switches to negatively discussing a team member who is not currently present, you should tell the team not to continue the conversation.
If, however, the team is bringing up valid points about a team member’s behavior, you can assure them that you will address the employee directly, all while emphasizing that discussing the employee who is not present is not in line with the company culture and therefore not tolerated.
Speak to the Gossiping Employees Directly
At some point, you may need to pull some of the employees aside to address them directly about the gossiping. In some instances, this may be the only way to eliminate the damaging gossip.
Open the conversation with a neutral tone, inviting the employee to share their perspective. For instance, a manager might say, “I’ve noticed some conversations that seem to be causing concern or distractions in the workplace. Can we talk about it?” By saying something like this, you’re giving the employee a chance to explain themselves
Once you’ve heard their side, it’s important to communicate the impact of their actions. Use specific examples, if possible, to highlight how their behavior affects their colleagues and the overall work environment. Emphasize the importance of trust, respect, and open communication in the workplace, and how gossip undermines these values.
If the gossip stems from misunderstandings or misinformation, this conversation can be an opportunity to correct those misconceptions. If the gossip is more personal or vindictive conflict resolution techniques might be appropriate.
Don’t Take Sides
Throughout the entire process of addressing gossip amongst employees, you must remain neutral. When fairness, devoid of favoritism, is practiced by leaders, it enables employees to confide in them knowing that their words will be met with an unbiased ear.
A neutral perspective inherently promotes problem-solving. When leaders stay neutral, they can address the root cause of gossip and conflicts. The problem becomes a puzzle to be solved rather than a battle to be won. This will improve the possibility of steering the resolution towards a constructive outcome.
Maintaining neutrality involves a conscious avoidance of preconceived conclusions. Leaders must be patient with themselves and their employees. All while keeping in mind that they are on the side of what is best for the company, its employees, and customers.
Emotional reactions, while completely natural, must be kept in check. This will ensure that responses and decisions are dictated by rationality and fairness rather than emotional currents.
Gossiping can seem like a harmless workplace practice but can be harmful in so many ways. Leaders should be on the lookout for the causes and consequences of gossiping within their team. As soon as they witness any gossiping, they should be proactive about stopping it. In the long run, this will lead to a more productive, unified, and effective team.