Office gossip, rumors and innuendo suck the energy out of a workplace faster than anything. These culprits have long been a thorn in the side of employers. A study by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) reported an increase in the level of inter-office rumors, gossip, and eavesdropping as a result of the recent state of the economy, which had resulted in increased workplace anxiety.
According to Eyren Esen, SHRM Survey Manager, “Everyone is on guard, and they have their ears perked up for any information that may give them a sense of clarity about what’s going on at their organization. Because people feel threatened and scared, they’re more likely to do things they wouldn’t normally do.” This behavior can include snooping (listening in on closed-door meetings), peeking at confidential e-mails or sharing second-hand information with others.
One of the main factors leading to gossip is the lack of communication in many organizations. Unusual and unexplained events can spark rumors among employees. If the organization or the management team does not act quickly and effectively manage rumors or gossip, they can take on a life of their own – which can greatly damage productivity and morale.
LegalWorkplace.com suggests that organizations should start by addressing some of the most common causes of widespread gossip, which are outlined below.
- Lack of communication. Foster an environment of open and honest communication. Keep employees informed about good and bad news to decrease their need to speculate and contribute to or rely on the office grapevine.
- Ignorance. Make sure employees are fully aware that starting and spreading rumors and gossip is unacceptable.
- Lack of respect. Managers must enforce workplace rules so employees understand the boundaries of bad behavior. This helps send the message that troublemakers (including gossipmongers) will not be tolerated.
- Cliques. Managers should physically separate members of cliques by moving them to different workspaces in order to cut down gossip time.
Some additional ideas for managing gossip are:
- Periodically distribute a companywide memo that reiterates that starting and spreading rumors is inappropriate. Remind employees that persistent gossipers will be subject to discipline.
- Performance appraisals can be a deterrent to gossiping. The spreading of rumors should be taken into consideration when rating employees on teamwork, cooperation, integrity, productivity, etc.
- Assign more work. If employees have time to stand around gossiping, obviously they have the time to take on additional tasks and projects.
Although rumors and gossip are a part of life, and cannot be completely eliminated from any workplace, steps can be taken to control and minimize its effects. Organizations should use solid communication channels, provide training, and implement and/or enforce workplace policies to make the workplace a positive environment. Also, try to make an effort to improve positive communication and employee engagement in any aspect of the workplace. Over time organizations should experience a reduction of energy draining, non-productive activities such as gossiping.