Research tells us that 9 out of 10 workplace conversations are gossip-related — and, astoundingly, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Evidence suggests that gossip can play a positive role in the workplace. For example, Crelos found that show that office gossip is the fourth most common way that organizations gather feedback from workers.
That being said, not all gossip is good. A study from The Creative Group found that 63 percent of U.S. advertising and marketing executives believe office gossip is having a negative effect on their workplaces. Negative office gossip can spread misinformation, breeding paranoia and resentment and driving down employee engagement and productivity in the process. So, while gossip can be a good thing, it can also be devastating.
The good news is that there are plenty of things that managers can do to help control the spread of negative gossip in their offices, and I have outlined some tips on how to do this below:
1. Create a Culture of Transparency
This has to be the most effective antidote to negative office gossip. If your staff members feel like they’re always in the dark about business performance and strategies, then you shouldn’t be surprised to see a culture of gossip set in. In the absence of information, the imagination runs wild.
Combat negative gossip by ushering employees into the light with a culture of transparency. To create such a culture, start by enacting a clear communications timetable. Perhaps you could send out detailed quarterly reports about business performance, strategies, and plans, as well as a monthly email newsletter of key developments. Make sure these newsletters and reports are incisive, not just superficial tokens of communication.
You’ll also need to implement multiple systems for gathering employee feedback. Doing so will give employees outlets for their frustrations other than the office rumor mill.
2. Discourage Gossip, but Don’t Outlaw It
While it makes sense to discourage gossip, it might not be wise to outlaw gossip altogether. Doing so would fail to address the underlying problem, and it would probably leave a bad taste in employees’ mouths.
It is good practice to include a policy in your employee handbook that clearly states the company frowns on negative gossip. This same policy should also give employees a list of alternative options they have for venting their frustrations productively, sharing feedback with the company, and getting their questions answered. Such options might include suggestion boxes, engagement surveys, self-appraisals, internal FAQ sites, quarterly “town hall” meetings, monthly business updates, and so on.
Discourage gossip not by crushing dissenters, but by presenting more effective alternatives that can really address employee problems and bring about change.
3. Deal With Gossip Ringleaders
You may find that there are specific ringleaders who act as catalysts for much of the negative gossip in your office. If so, you should address these people directly.
It’s likely that any gossip ringleaders are actively disengaged, given that Gallup has highlighted negative gossip as a key behavior exhibited by the actively disengaged. The best way to deal with these actively disengaged employees is to watch them closely — maybe even meet with them — in an attempt to figure out why they are not engaged. Are they bored with their work? Do they feel their careers have stalled out? Do they not feel listened too? If you deal with their concerns, you may be able to reenergize them. As they become more engaged, the amount of gossip they spread or encourage should drop significantly.
4. Be a Role Model
If you regularly sit down and gossip with your staff or other managers, don’t be surprised if a gossip culture emerges on your team. Your behavior has given your employees the green light to go ahead and gossip.
A great way to discourage gossip is to lead by example. Show your staff members how to deal with frustration without gossiping. Make it clear to your employees that you use the proper organizational mechanisms and channels to raise concerns, vent frustrations, and gather information when needed. Lead the way, and your staff members will likely follow.
In the end, office gossip is a far more complex beast than you might thing, and it can serve some useful, positive purposes. However, negative gossip can do some real damage, and that’s why leaders need to be vigilant. They need to lead by example, foster transparency, and help their employees find alternative, productive ways to express their concerns.