The Sunday Times - Business Doctor: Limiting the damage of office gossip

Peter Done: Managing Director and Founder

May 16 2016

AG Writes: I understand that everyone gossips from time to time, but when does gossiping go too far? I am concerned that so called ‘office banter’ within my business is starting to get out of hand, but I am unsure of how to approach this situation. Please can you advise?  Gossiping can be defined as talking about someone else’s private or personal business, especially when that person is not present. It can be seen as a common everyday occurrence but when gossip occurs in the workplace it can be damaging to the workplace environment and to careers. Gossiping will have a negative effect in the workplace by affecting the reputation of the gossiper, affecting the quality of work produced due to demoralising or demotivating colleagues, especially the ones that are being gossiped about, and it can create divisions within the organisation. The main impact gossip has is that it destroys trust. For example, if the person gossiping is a member of the management team, could they be trusted with sensitive business information that is not appropriate for public consumption? This breakdown of trust can have consequences such as employees second guessing each other, an increased need to involve seniors in minor disagreements and trivial issues, and will ultimately cause the death of productive and meaningful teamwork. Careless talk can have a costly impact for employers as they may now be liable for any abusive or ill-judged remarks that once came under the banner of ‘banter’. A single abusive remark can constitute harassment and if employees become uncomfortable then this is evidence of that fact. Employers need to make sure that careless talk does not cross the line between ‘friendly banter’ and harassment and they need to provide employees with adequate protection and enforcement through reasonable punishments. Communicating regularly and consistently with all employees can help. This will reduce the influence and need for gossip as all employees are kept well informed and ‘in-the-loop’ so there is no gap in information that can be filled with gossip. Official company policies could be used to discourage gossip and make people aware of the consequences. Clear sanctions and consequences can stop gossip progressing and being passed on as employees become less willing to engage in it. Don’t get involved in gossip as an employer. Set by example what you expect of employees and showing gossip will not be tolerated by you personally lays down a clear guideline for your delegates.    

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