Gossip in the workplace

09 July 2019
If left unchecked, workplace gossip can have a detrimental impact on the productivity and overall success of an organisation. While it’ll be hard to prevent gossip entirely, it may be possible to manage the extent to which it occurs.

Office gossip

Employers may look to create anti-gossiping rules which details their approach towards gossip at work and explains the problems this can cause. Draft these rules in a concise way, making sure to define the term “gossip” and ensuring they are clear enough so that employers are able to enforce any rules. It’s important your staff is aware of the requirements placed upon them under these rules. So it’s advisable employers outline certain things that are off-limits. This can include making disparaging remarks relating to individual colleagues that may constitute bullying (or other discriminatory behaviour). Ultimately, gossip at work has the potential for some employees to see it as harassment. Others could claim it's a violation of their freedom of speech. All of which means you may want to consider implementing rules to take control of the situation.

Rules to consider

So how do you go about stopping gossip in the workplace? The reality is that anti-gossiping rules can’t prevent staff discussing things with each other at work. In practical terms, it’s impossible to enforce and manage. To help your rules have an impact, though, you can outline certain topics you consider off topic. This can include salaries, bonuses, or anything else you want left alone. For example, when the purpose of the conversation is to investigate into the company’s equal pay practices, attempting to restrict discussions on salaries and bonuses under these circumstances could lead to claims of discrimination. Considerate employers should also appreciate that harmless conversations between colleagues regarding their lives outside of work can actually have a positive impact, helping to build friendships and foster a sense of camaraderie that can be beneficial to the organisation. It’s important to strike a balance between harmful gossip and simple ‘water cooler’ conversations.

Prevention of gossips

Given the above, employers should look beyond implementing rules and consider other methods to limit negative workplace gossip. Directors and line managers gossiping in the workplace don’t set a good example, so refrain from this. Those new to the positions may need reminding of the influence their actions could have on less senior colleagues. To help here, avoid speaking negatively about other employees while at work. Another concern for employers is staff who participate in gossip may spread sensitive information about ongoing business activities, causing significant employee unrest. To avoid this, employers should ensure they communicate clearly and effectively with staff, particularly when this involves emotive topics such as redundancies, take-overs, and pay. This will enable employers to control the message and prevent incorrect information finding its way into the workforce. Before acting on workplace gossip, employers need to consider how detrimental the activity is to their organisation. This can include what measures are appropriate under the circumstances. It’s important that staff are not unreasonably restricted in the workplace and provided with a platform to discuss any issues using the appropriate channels.

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