Have you ever walked past an office and people’s voices suddenly drop? Have you ever walked in the room and the conversation just stops and leaves an awkward silence? Chances are you interrupted some workplace gossip.
Most of us have participated in some form of gossip at some point in our lives, and likely in the workplace. We engage in gossip as a guilty pleasure, and unfortunately, workplaces are prime settings for gossip habits to flourish. Most participants partake in gossip with no idea how it affects their workplace health & safety.
People participate in workplace gossip for many reasons:
To feel understood
Be heard by their peers
Feel powerful or superior
The Dangers of Gossip to Workplace Health & Safety
Gossip may seem harmless, but the consequence of workplace gossip may result in:
Erosion of trust and workplace morale,
Lost productivity and wasted time,
Isolation of people,
Prevent effective communication,
Increase anxiety among employees as rumours circulate without clear information,
Create polarization amongst employees,
Hurt feelings and reputations,
Increase use of sick time or time away from work,
Attrition due to employees leaving the company because of unhealthy work environment
How & Where to Address Gossip Affecting Workplace Health & Safety in your Organization
Methods to address gossip in your workplace should be identified in your business’s Anti- Violence and Harassment Policy or a Respect in the Workplace Policy.
Continually educating employees and facilitating dialogue as part of an internal conflict management system when gossip occurs is also beneficial to encouraging a healthy workplace environment.
Gossip can also be addressed as unacceptable behavior demonstrated as part of your corporate core values. For example, if your business has identified Professionalism as a core value, what would that core value look like as it relates to gossip? How would it be demonstrated? One way you can demonstrate it is by turning the situation around and being positive.
What Can You Do about Preventing Gossip in Your Workplace?
I remember a situation where I knew I was sharing information that was gossip. I realized it as soon as I said it out loud. The person I shared it with responded with an uncomfortable pause in our conversation. I felt guilty, helpless, and low. She did not engage or continue to participate in the discussion and in that moment I knew how easy it was to share gossip without even thinking.
When participating in gossip remember this - the people you are gossiping with are the same people who are gossiping about you. Stopping to think about this before I speak helps me stop the gossip before it starts. I feel my back straighten, my professionalism steps in, and I instantly want to steer the conversation to a positive place.
Hands-on Approach to Stopping Workplace Gossip Before it starts:
Start a practice to help employees recognize when initiating or participating in gossip with others.
The Reverse Gossip Game, created by Bob Burg, is a tool to turn comments from negative take-downs to positive shows of support.
The game works like this: When somebody says something negative about someone else, you respond with a positive comment. Basically, the objective of this game is - say something positive or pay a compliment behind somebody’s back.
Here’s an example:
Kate: Did you hear how Mary lost a major client? The client hated her presentation and now we might not get bonuses because of her
You: No, I didn’t. Mary is normally quite good at creating presentations and understanding the client’s needs so I am confused. There must be more to this story.
Kate: Well I heard it was because the President did not give her the support, so she sabotaged the company by not giving it her best.
You: That’s quite a direct statement. I think it is important to work with the facts. What could we do to help Mary? After all, we can all benefit from turning this situation around.
I encourage you to say something positive or compliment behind somebody’s back and live in a zone where you are putting the reverse gossip game into practice.
This blog post was written by Stacey Messner, CPHR. Stacey operates a Human Resources Consulting practice for small businesses in the Northern Peace Region of Alberta. She works with employers, job seekers, and established HR Departments to provide customized, cost-effective, as- needed support for their human resource needs.