No one likes to admit they are titillated by a little gossip, but let’s face it, it’s going to happen and has almost become accepted -- and even expected -- in the workplace as a matter of course. Unfortunately, gossip can be harmful -- to you, the target of the gossip and to the company as a whole. Whether you’re the boss or just a worker bee, you can take a stand against gossip and even if you can’t eliminate it entirely, you can make a dent in destructive gossip and squelch some of the consequences. If you don’t, you could end up facing substantially worse issues on the job.
Gossip most always ends up costing the company productive work hours. Whether it’s a result of people chatting in the hallway or sending incriminating emails, time spent spreading rumors and letting everyone in on the latest news is wasted time. When you’re focused on the latest scandal, both the quality and quantity of work are diminished. One way to address lost time spent gossiping is to be clear and firm about deadlines and productivity expectations. Stick by your requirements and maybe even set up a plan to dish out disciplinary actions if the gossip continues.
Effective teamwork is the soul of your business. Dividing the labor and sharing the tasks increases efficiency. When gossip runs rampant, you’re going to have a hard time getting any productive teamwork to take place. Workers begin wondering what others are saying about them and view each other with suspicion. Employees wrapped up in gossip spend their time either trying to hide or trying to find secrets. Trust and collaboration go out the window. You’ve got to lead by example, demonstrating openness, trust and a strong desire to pull your team back together.
When people are focused on fear and insecurity about what others might be saying, resentment over what they heard about someone else, or on which side they fall in the inevitable conflict, low morale usually results. The workplace can turn into a hostile environment. One way to build morale is to encourage employees to voice their concerns and speak openly about how the gossip is affecting everyone. Sometimes, a culture of secrecy actually promotes gossip. Instead of confronting coworkers about their performance, for example, employees might choose instead to complain to anyone who will listen. By encouraging openness, you can overcome the reticence that could result in stronger bonds than ever among the staff.
Regardless of what line of work you're in, a workplace laden with gossip can hurt your business reputation and put a serious hurt on your ability to get new clients. Whether you run a restaurant or a consulting firm, clients and customers who overhear gossip or experience a hostile environment are sure to be turned off. They might even be disappointed enough to look elsewhere for similar services. Remind employees of the consequences of their continued gossip and how it hurts one of the most important things that most employees have in common – their wallets.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."