I know what you’re thinking, a bit of workplace gossiping is harmless, right? Well think again. What might start out as a bit of chatter can quickly turn into something much more toxic overnight.
First a small group of staff are talking about the way a particular employee does her job or that she gets to leave early to pick up her kids from school. A few snide comments are made, but nothing too malicious. Next thing you know, when such behaviour is left unchecked, these colleagues are spending a huge amount of time unfairly scrutinising that colleague. They are emailing back and forth about her, they are talking about her behind her back, and they are excluding her. Sound familiar?
I’ve seen this happen all too often when I go into workplaces to conduct investigations. I’m sure you’ve seen it too. It always starts out with someone at work testing the waters by throwing out a couple of remarks about their colleague. This can snowball into something much more serious which could be a breach of your company’s code of conduct, or constitute bullying or harassing behaviour.
What is the Problem?
You might think it’s simply human nature for gossiping to take place. Maybe you are thinking ‘can it really be stopped?’ But, have you thought about the negative effects such behaviour has in the longer term on a workplace?
Here are some of the issues I have seen when I investigate entrenched poor behaviour which has started out with what some people might views as ‘innocent’ gossiping:
• Low productivity- if people are spending time thinking negatively about what others in the workplace are doing they are not performing at their highest level.
• High absenteeism-it could be the person who is the subject of gossiping feeling stressed and needing time off, or the people carrying out the gossiping taking days off here and there because they don’t feel a high level of engagement at work.
• High Turnover- if you have a gossiping culture some employees will simply have very low satisfaction in coming to work and may leave to look for something more enjoyable elsewhere.
• Mistrust- if employees are allowed to undermine colleagues and perhaps to inappropriately questions management actions (a common form of gossiping) you will have a culture where other serious issues such as fraud or conflicts of interest could arise.
• Claims- a toxic culture is a ticking time bomb and you could end up with bullying, harassment, discrimination and worker’s compensation claims.
• Loss of Clients/ Work- If you think your clients cannot see disharmony in your team, think again.
A Way Forward
So what can you do to promote the right environment and nip gossiping in the bud before it gets out of hand?
There are several important things leaders and managers in your business should be implementing which are highlighted below:
It is not enough to just have a policy that tells employees that they are not to engage in gossiping. You need to take proactive steps to build a positive culture, not just except that it will somehow permeate your workplace unassisted. Most importantly, if someone does the wrong thing, and you have already called them out about gossiping previously, you should discipline them to set the right example.
What techniques have you tested when it comes to workplace gossiping and have they been a success?