Office gossip takes many forms, mostly bad, but it is management that sets the tone for any resulting good or bad. At worst, office gossip is libelous with appropriate penalties from termination to being sued for civil damages. Certainly, spreading falsehoods is detrimental to people and the culture of the workplace. Office gossip in any form is a reflection of the way management communicates or does not communicate with and / or supports employees.
Workers seek control over their job performance, recognition when they deserve it, and security for their being and performance. Untrue workplace gossip undermines employee control, recognition, and safety. Most companies have written policies that address office gossip. However, many companies simply have policies on office gossip without understanding how communication and processes prevent or encourage office gossip.
What if the gossip is true? What if the president has an affair with one of the salespeople? What if the principal was arrested for driving while intoxicated? What if the CEO tolerates top management taking refuge in their offices with their cronies taking advantage of and fueling the gossip / rumor mill to protect their turf and / or smear their rivals?
When a company culture is reluctant to communications, insensitive to processes that promote performance, employee recognition, or job safety, or tolerates misbehavior of character, office gossip unfolds on the scale. that employees feel left out of the organization, resent their management, and lack confidence that the organization can compete for their long-term job security.
Most recent articles on office gossip point to the problem as the employee, and in some cases this may be true. However, office gossip is a corporate cultural phenomenon, and therefore it is the responsibility of management to prevent … not through written policies without intervention, but through responsible management behaviors that employees understand, respect and emulate. The key behaviors should be:
-Communicate regularly with a consistent positive message. Industry trends, organizational changes and why they are made, new products, promotions, recalls. Newsletters and emails are just the beginning. Quarterly group / team meetings with senior managers sharing short descriptions that allow for questions and answers from employees. If reasonable questions arise, commit to responding in time and make sure they are answered. If the information to be shared is less than positive, be direct and honest without taking a misleading spin.
-Actions speak louder than words. Management must be visible, accessible and accessible. Too many managers hide in their offices, avoid employees, and are deliberately evasive when asked reasonable questions. Sadly, insecurity and fear in managers is common, a reflection of their bosses hiring cronies with no responsibility for performance and a reluctance to make necessary managerial changes. If management wants the best for the organization than for themselves, it must behave accordingly. Daily interaction with employees is essential, say hello, ask how a project is going and listen sincerely. Survey after survey reflects that most managers feel they are doing the right thing, but most employees say otherwise.
-Carrots work better than sticks. Managers are often reluctant to recognize good performance for fear of not getting credit or spoiling employees. Employees consistently tell surveys that they hear nine negatives and one positive from their managers. Praise builds teams and esteem, criticism divides and tears down.
-Stop internal competencies like just dividing departments, employees, and distracting yourself from a necessary focus on core competencies and customer needs. Performance measures and rewards should be based on value delivered to customers, not management’s trickle-down policy.
-Take personal responsibility for your performance. Employment is a privilege, not a right. Your company must be competitive in value and price, which means constant change, including the work done and the employees required. Add value and your job is safe … just float and your job is vulnerable. Gossiping to divert attention from yourself to those who offend you or are not respected is often counterproductive to the gossiper.
-Office gossip is usually juicy, funny, and sometimes revealing … however, it’s best to focus on listening and speaking skills only when it can add value to the organization. Either you have trust and respect for your management or you leave … staying with the gossip is a waste of time now and potential elsewhere.
-Avoid labeling co-workers. Prejudice, prejudice, resentment, jealousy, and the like do not add any value to the organization and only reflect poorly on offensive employees … as well as being potentially defamatory. It’s interesting to see someone label an employee a “traitor”, but what makes them that? As the old saying goes, be careful when pointing your finger as there are three more pointing at you.
Management should view the presence of gossip in the office as a reflection of its organizational performance and effectiveness. The more gossip prevails, no doubt, the more HR problems will arise and job performance will plummet. The problem must be addressed with more emphasis on clear and consistent communications and sincere involvement of management with employees. Established policies against office gossip with heavy penalties only increase employee mistrust and decrease respect, as management appears insensitive to employees’ needs for communication, mutual understanding, recognition and respect, and fostering safety. .. much less decrease gossip.
Change will be a constant in the workplace reflecting the market and competition. Companies that embrace employees as sources of new ideas for products, services, improvements, and productivity are reaping the rewards of change. Management insecurity and fears are a reflection of the leadership of owners, the board, and senior officials who fear change. The command and control organizations of the old economy are fertile ground for office gossip. New economy business organizations embrace change, move so fast, with participants incentivized for a common cause, that there is simply no time for office gossip, just huge numbers for performance, job security, and recognition from many sectors.
Management must accept responsibility for their actions / inactions that create a culture where gossip can flourish or decline. Employees must accept responsibility for their livelihoods and offer their best value anywhere, or switch to an employer more appreciative of their deliverables.