Gossip is often interesting or no one would bother participating in it; yet, as adults we also know how damaging and inaccurate this type of banter can be. While it's certainly destructive for our social lives, it can absolutely wreak havoc at the workplace where it destroys professional camaraderie, divides teams, and sinks the office culture into a mire of negativity.
The following guidelines will help you nurture a gossip-free workplace, benefit your organization and help you foster a more respectful office whether you are an employee or part of the management team.
#1 – Define Gossip
First, we think it is important to define “Gossip.” Before you outlaw something, your employees need to be clear on what it actually is! Gossip is “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.”
There are two important parts of the definition we want to highlight – the fact that gossip includes talking about OTHER people and talking about details that are NOT confirmed to be TRUE.
And of course, any time you partake in gossiping with or about co-workers or within the office building, you are guilty of “Office Gossip.” (Note: You don’t actually have to be IN the office for it to count as office gossip. Simply talking negatively about co-workers outside of the office or with another co-worker at a social event qualifies as office gossip.) Now that we have defined “Office Gossip,” we have to figure out what to do about it!
#2 – Let Your Expectations Be Known
When it comes to the workplace, stop the gossip. If you can put a stop to the gossip, the rumors, the cliques and the mean spirited behavior that can take place among colleagues, you will eliminate a good number of the headaches both you and your employees face, and improve morale dramatically. Easier said than done, of course, but the first step is to let your employees know your expectations.
Rather than coming down with a heavy fist and saying that gossip will not be tolerated and anyone caught engaging will be disciplined, so on and so on, it’s important that you instead make your attack against gossip by creating a culture that will not allow it to thrive. Let your employees know your expectations and set the example. Set the parameters for what type of communication is acceptable.
One of our favorite sets of rules is:
1. Is it true?
(Know the facts of any information you share. If you haven’t fact-checked the matter for yourself, avoid talking about it with other co-workers. You can always go to the individual and ask them for yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, either because of your comfort level with that person or because of the subject matter, you probably shouldn’t be nosing into the matter at all.)
2. Is it kind?
(If it seems like something outrageous or something that you wouldn’t want getting around about you, then don’t share, don’t judge, and don’t assume. Remember – if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.)
3. Is it necessary?
(Another way to word this is – ‘Is it helpful?’ In most circumstances, there is nothing productive about gossiping. The less time co-workers spend spreading gossip about each other, the more time they can use to build trusting, professional relationships – in turn leading to better job performance.)
Tell your employees that before they say something to another employee or about another employee, they should measure what they are about to say against this three key test. If it passes with a Yes to all three, then it’s fine to say. If it doesn’t, they should strongly reconsider.
Then, make sure that you, and all your managers follow your guidelines. Failure to do so on the part of any member of management will not only undermine what you are trying to implement for your company, but will actually make it worse.
To make sure everyone is on the same page, we suggest holding a business etiquette workplace training session for all employees. While you may think the majority of employees know business etiquette, the reality is that they don’t. And if you have a few star pupils in the office, then a little refresher never hurt! By going over what behaviors you except at your office, you should let your employees know that office gossip (and other disrespectful behaviors) will not be tolerated.
#4 – Be Specific About Office Conversations That Are Off Limits
“But everyone else is talking about it!” .....Don’t even get us started!
It is important to be specific about the topics that should not be discussed at the office. Let your employees know that they do not want to be the source of the gossip at your workplace. They will be deemed the “office busybody” and this will be will be detrimental to their career.
Here are some taboo topics that should be avoided:
Remind your employees once they decide to participate in a questionable conversation, they will come off looking just as guilty as the one who initiated the gossip. Remember, if someone gossips TO you they will most likely gossip ABOUT you.
Rule #5 – Share Strategies to Minimize Office Gossip
Let’s be honest – office gossip is never going to completely disappear. We don’t live in a perfect world! So you need to share with your employees what to do when someone shares gossip.
There are ways to respond without seeming off-putting or anti-social. Here are some strategies to share that will minimize gossip. Tell your employees to:
Rule #6 – Promote a Positive Work Environment
It is very important for those in a managerial role to promote a positive atmosphere. You set the tone for the office! Stay positive and stay focused. Make it a point to be courteous to others in your office, but that doesn’t mean you have to join in on the water cooler gossip session. Be mindful and remain positive at all times. Try and become known as the manager with the supporting and optimistic attitude who only shares things that builds others up.
Employees will take notice and hopefully, start to mimic your attitude. Negativity is contagious so combat it with a healthy dose of positivity at the office.
The best way to cut down on office gossip is to spread the word! (No, not around the water cooler.) As we mentioned before, we believe holding a training session on business etiquette is the best way to get your message across. And it just so happens that DSA HR Solutions can conduct those training sessions for you. To learn more about our training services, contact us today!
We are a team of certified HR experts based out of the San Francisco Bay Area that provides HR consulting services to businesses nationwide.