Tantamount to bullying, malicious or excessive gossip can severely interrupt production and wreak havoc with your office’s morale. Though “water cooler intrigue” can be entertaining at times, when a colleague becomes a target of harassment it can perpetuate a self-defeating attitude within the company. Set the boundaries now, before it gets out of control and costs you a bundle!
Stop rumors in their tracks
Tell your employees to take the “high road” and help to make sure the rumor ends with them. Emphasize how important it can be to not perpetuate gossip, and how eventually others will begin to emulate the integrity of this behavior. Gossip by definition goes around “in a circle,” which means it will eventually come back to the maligned individual; it always does. If you fail to protect an employee from such attacks your business could be exposed to liabilities, such as constructive dismissal.
Let your people know you mean business. Create rules with consequences for ignoring them. It’s important that employees understand the ways gossip can demean not only their morale, but also a customer’s impression of your business. One miserable employee can lose you more goodwill in a single day than you can build from a week of lunch meetings with clients and new prospects. Keep your wits about you.
Many employers get busy and forget how vital these sessions can be for the overall health and well being of their companies. Staff meetings let your people know there is a time and place they can air their concerns, so they don’t have to brood about problems to the point of commiserating with their fellow workers. It is also a good time to let your employees in on your future plans or enlist their suggestions in fixing problem areas.
Is it a symptom?
Not always. Sometimes it’s just a bad habit that got “too big for its britches.” But occasionally it does indicate there is a malady festering within your company. Like antibodies rushing to an infection site, disgruntled employees will flock to the water cooler to plan their attack. They may blame undeserving people, denigrate the “pretty girl” or the “nerdy guy” just to give a physical target to their overall unhappiness, which may be a mere lack of inspiration from their bosses. Sometimes they won’t be able to wrap their heads around what’s really wrong; that is, after all, your job. They just know they are unhappy and they are soon going to give it a face; overworked, underpaid, too few benefits, too many plants. Gossip takes on a life of its own if left unattended. Pay attention.
Be supportive and respectful
The proverbial “golden rule” really does apply in the office environment; treat your employees the way you would want to be treated and they will pass it on. Praise team efforts, especially when one employee shows supportive behavior when another colleague falters. Your people will notice and want “some of that” positive attention as well. If workers are acknowledged for going out of their way to train or assist, they won’t tend to complain if they have to occasionally carry the load of a slower person. Let them know these are leadership traits.
Don’t underestimate the damage that gossip can cause in your office. If allowed to go on unchallenged it can and will undermine all your best efforts, distilling what could otherwise be great results into “what-could-have-beens.” If you don’t spot it and stop it first, then your customers will recognize it and back away from what could have been successful relationships with you.
Keep in mind that gossip is not idle; it’s a breeding ground for unrest and derogatory office behavior. Make sure to keep your finger “on the pulse” of your organization. Take time to listen to your employees, give them guidance and encourage their growth with positive learning experiences, and place them where they excel. Better this comes “full circle” than the gossip.
Before having children, Loretta Pleasant worked full time for a reverse phone lookup service in Los Angeles. She now spends her time with her family and, when the kids are asleep, writing.