Kristi Sinclair - HR Professional
Spending time on Facebook and Instagram we are exposed to and often consumed with other people’s personal lives. Reality TV takes this voyeurism to a whole new level - just ask a Kardashian or a MAFS contestant – taking a peek at someone else’s life can be intriguing. It’s even more fun when we talk about it with friends and pass our judgements on what was screened. Move that interest in what others are up to into real life and factor in how much time we spend our colleagues, and it’s only natural that we are curious about their private lives. As our connections grow, so does the level of information we share with one another leading to stronger bonds and positive work cultures. But sometimes these conversations are nothing more than gossip sessions that can be hurtful to the people involved and are most definitely damaging to your business.
Considered human nature and a means to building personal associations, gossiping can have detrimental effects on relationships in the workplace. Idle chatter often reflects poorly on the subject of the gossip and even more poorly for the gossiper when caught out! As the saying goes, ‘Knowledge is power” and those who engage in gossiping wield it to create an illusion of being the one in the know, to undermine others, to ingratiate themselves with others by sharing confidential information. But this behaviour can lead to broken relationships, damaged reputations and a complete breakdown in trust within a team, all of which will impact your business culture, productivity and can lead to costly levels of employee turnover.
Workplace gossip v connecting conversations
There is an important distinction between conversations that build relationships and straight-out gossip. While you want your team to work productively, you also want to encourage conversation that connects them and builds a positive work environment. Dialogue of a personal nature will help develop relationships between employees which in turn builds a positive morale and cohesive work group. Conversation and sharing information about oneself is an innate behaviour that many employees will use to help them understand their environment and will lead to stronger working associations.
The Impact of Workplace Gossip
The flipside of this is when this conversation becomes inflammatory, embarrassing to the subject of the gossip, hurtful or deliberately malicious. An employee who is the subject of this conjecture, may not feel comfortable in the workplace and the detrimental flow on effects that will absolutely impact your business can include:
Warning – danger Will Robinson!
As a business owner, gossip can be a warning sign to you that things need to change. Gossip can take many forms from innocuous yet still hurtful chatter to insidious and deliberately nasty rumourmongering that is designed to damage. Experience shows that some employees who engage in workplace gossip feel a sense of powerlessness as it pertains to the business, how they are managed or even an individual colleague. Alternatively, they may participate in negative behaviour as a result of unclear communication from the business leaders and it is often a sign of disconnect between teams or a sign that employees do not feel they will be supported if they express their concerns with management. Subsequently, gossip becomes a compensatory strategy that assists them in feeling a connection or a sense of control over their situation.
There is a definitive difference between colleagues having a chat about Susan and how excited they are for her upcoming nuptials and a more nefarious campaign undermining Trevor by passing on unsubstantiated chatter that suggests he is having an affair with his married boss to get a promotion. The conversations that celebrate the good news of others should be encouraged while stories that undermine – whether there is any truth to them or not – are not acceptable.
What can you do about workplace gossip?
Whether it begins with the most innocent of intentions or is deliberately spiteful, the repercussions of workplace gossip can be quite serious so it’s important to get out in front of such behaviour before it harms your team and your business
It seems a standard line from those of us who work in Human Resources but establishing clear and well communicated policies is an absolute must when dealing with the complex area of human behaviour. When it comes to managing gossip and its potential fallout, clear and concise workplace policies outlining what is expected of everyone within the workplace, establishing respectful employee conduct and the importance of confidentiality in the workplace will support you in managing an outbreak of potentially harmful muckraking.
Employers should endeavour to create an ‘open door’ environment where employees feel comfortable to raise their concerns and complaints in a safe and supportive setting so they can be addressed quickly and before they fester and become major issues that require additional resources to manage and resolve.
Workplace gossip can have serious consequences for businesses and employees if left unmanaged. At the first sign of this behaviour address the individuals involved privately in a positive and supportive manner and reinforce a zero tolerance stance. Be prepared to listen too – remember that someone who is gossiping may be doing so in order to regain some control when feeling powerless and the gossiping may be a symptom of a larger issue within your business. Further to this, it is important that any complaints received are taken seriously and acted upon swiftly to nip the issue in the bud and to set a precedence that future inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated. This will then discourage the behaviour being repeated and also encourage others to speak up if it happens again.
As always, if you have an issue within your business that is impacting your overall morale, culture or productivity, the team at HRSS is here to help so contact us now for a confidential discussion.
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