There are many types of office gossip, some good, but management sets the tone. Slanderous office gossip can lead to termination and civil damages. Spreading untruths can be harmful for both employees and the culture of the office. Any form of office gossip is an indication of how management communicates with and/or supports employees.
Workers want control over their work output, recognition when due and security for their well-being and performance. Employee control, recognition and security are compromised by workplace gossip that is false. Most companies have policies in place to deal with office gossip. Many businesses only have policies about office gossip. They don’t know how to communicate and prevent office gossip.
What if the gossip is real? What if one of the salespeople is having an affair? What if the director is actually charged with drunken driving? What if the CEO allows senior managers to huddle in their offices while their cronies tap and feed the gossip/rumor mill?
A company culture that is closed to communications or insensitive to processes that increase performance output, employee appreciation, job security, or tolerates poor character behavior can lead to office gossip. Employees will feel marginalized and resentful towards their managers. They may also lose confidence that the company can compete for their long-term employment security.
Many recent articles about office gossip focus on the problem being the employee. In some cases, this may be true. But office gossip is a cultural phenomenon that affects business and it is the responsibility of management not to stop it. Instead, they must implement responsible management practices that employees will respect and be able to copy. These are the key behaviors to be:
-Send a consistent, positive message by communicating regularly. Industry trends, organizational changes, why done, new products and promotions, retirements. Newsletters and emails are just one example. Quarterly meetings by group/team with senior level managers sharing brief overviews allowing Q&A from employees. Respond promptly to reasonable questions and ensure that they are answered. Be honest and direct if the information you are sharing is not positive.
Actions speak louder then words. Management must be easily accessible and reachable. Many managers are too timid, avoid their employees and deliberately avoid reasonable questions. Fear and insecurity are unfortunately common among managers. It is a result of bosses who hire cronies without accountability for performance and refusing to make necessary management adjustments. Management must act in a way that is best for the organization and not for their own personal gain. It is essential to have regular contact with employees. This includes contacting them daily, asking about their projects, and listening. Survey after survey reveals that most managers feel they do the right stuff, but the majority say the opposite.
-Carrots work more efficiently than sticks. Managers are often reluctant to recognize employees who have performed well out of fear of losing credit or spoiling them. Respondents tell us that nine out of ten negative comments they hear from their managers are positive. While praise can build teams and increase self-esteem, criticism can cause divisions and bring down employees.
Stop internal competitions that only divide departments and employees. They distract from the need to focus on core competencies, customer needs, and prevent you from being a good manager. Not the politics of management, but the value that clients receive should be used to determine performance measures and rewards.
Take personal responsibility for your performance. The right to employment is a privilege and not an entitlement. Your company must be competitive in price and value. This means that your company needs to constantly change, including the work done and the employees needed. Add value to ensure your employment is secure. Otherwise, you will lose your job. The gossiper often uses gossip to divert attention away from you and those who are offending or not respected.
Although office gossip can sometimes be entertaining and insightful, it’s better to listen than speak and only use your voice when you add value to the organization. Either you respect and have confidence in your manager or you go.
Avoid labeling co-workers. Prejudice, biases, hard feelings and jealousies are not good for the company and can reflect poorly on the offending employees as well as be libelous. It’s interesting to see an employee called a “backstabber”, but what does that do? The old saying is “Be careful when you point a finger” because then you have three more pointed back at you.
Management should view office gossip as an indicator of organizational performance and effectiveness. Management must recognize that gossip is a sign of organizational performance. If there are more gossips, then more human resource problems will emerge and work performance will sink. This problem must be addressed by putting more emphasis on consistent communication and genuine management involvement with employees. Stated policies against office gossip with strong penalties only increase employee distrust and diminishes any respect as management appears insensitive to the needs of employee communications, understanding, recognition and mutual respect and security…encouraging, much less diminishing the gossip.
The workplace will always be changing to reflect the market and the competition. Companies that embrace their employees as source of new ideas for products, services and enhancements, and productivity, reap the benefits of change. Fears and insecurity among managers are often a result of fearful leadership by board members and top executives. Office gossip is a common problem in the old economy command and control organisations. Entrepreneurial organizations in the new economy embrace innovation and move quickly with incentised participants to a shared cause. There is no place for office gossip.
Managers must be accountable for creating a culture in which gossip thrives or fails. Employees should take responsibility for their own livelihoods and provide their best value wherever they are. Or, they can change employers to be more grateful for their work.