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Can your managers manage ... rumours?

Most workplaces have a rumour mill, a grapevine, a means for transmitting juicy hearsay because, let’s face it, we’re all human and at times most of us enjoy a good gossip.

Unfortunately, in a business or work environment, gossip is potentially dangerous. The very definition of gossip (according to Cambridge) is, “conversation or reports about other people's private lives that might be unkind, disapproving, or not true,” and when you put that in the context of employees chattering about colleagues, customers, or the company itself, it’s a risk – to productivity, to relationships, to your brand and reputation.

If gossip and rumour is a negative thing, should you do something about it? Just how bad is it? The key is to ask whether it’s:

  • Getting in the way of business and work?
  • Hurting other people’s feelings?
  • Disrupting office or customer relationships?
  • Affecting motivation or morale?

If so, you’ve got a problem.

What’s the potential impact of gossip in workplace

If the rumour isn’t challenged, if gossip becomes a major part of your workplace culture (It’s what we do around here) then expect to see some or all of the following:

  • An increasing lack of trust.
  • ‘Teenage’-style cliques and groups forming.
  • Employees unsure of what is true and what is not.
  • The subject(s) of the gossip feel bullied and harassed.
  • Some people are more interested to “hear the latest” than in working.
  • Increased turnover as people leave for a less toxic workplace.

Tips for managing gossip in the workplace

Check your company/HR policies – Do you have anything that warns against or prohibits damaging gossip, or that expects employees to treat each other with respect? If not, put something in there.

Don’t join in – Might seem obvious but it can be surprising how tempting a quick gossip can be.

Managers are role models – As in so many things, if the boss is complaining about Penny in Accounts, or Raj in Sales, it’s a little difficult to credibly tackle other people’s gossiping.

Tackle it – But that’s exactly what managers need to do: find out what’s being said (i.e. get the facts), and using their feedback and coaching skills, have an informal conversation. NB: if it’s less gossip and more a targeted campaign of slander, maybe skip the informal chat and go straight to a formal disciplinary approach (depends on the facts and circumstances).

Disciplinary – If the informal approach fails (or isn’t appropriate) then it’s time for the formal option, a full-on disciplinary to address the damaging behaviour.

There’s always an internal grapevine in any organisation. And it’s often a great source of information, albeit second or third hand, but when that grapevine is used to attack people (or even just leaves them feeling attacked) then managers need to step up.

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