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It is extremely common to notice your employees develop a little bit of banter between them. This, in fact, is healthy. Office banter can help develop camaraderie and can be effective for team efficiency. The problem with office banter is when it starts falling in the lane of office gossip. Gossip is unhealthy and can affect the workplace in a negative manner. It is important to understand when a light conversation turns into harmful gossip.
How to Tell If Light Conversations Have Ventured into ‘Gossip Terrain’
For most employers, it can be incredibly hard to find the difference between gossip and chitchat. The trick here is to see how the conversation trends. In most office conversations, if the topic tends to be about something that can harm someone or is targeted consistently towards one person, then it tends to be harmful.
At the same time, if the conversation seems to have more and more participants or is consistently targeting the same people, it can also be considered gossip. Another way to tell that a conversation has become gossip is when the story or the topic begins to become more and more exaggerated.
Idle chitchat that isn’t harmful and involves the people in the conversation is always healthy. But if the conversation is consistently about a person not present while the conversation is taking place and the tone tends to be negative, it is fair to say it is gossipy in nature and should be stopped.
How Can Gossip Negatively Impact Workplace Culture?
While handling workplace gossip, it is important to understand why it is a sensitive matter and what the negatives of having this kind of gossip around the workplace are. Here are a few reasons you should stop gossip at your workplace immediately.
- Gossip can isolate employees and create an unfriendly and tense environment.
- Gossip can count as workplace harassment of the target.
- Workplace gossip can cause a revolving door of skilled employees i.e attrition will be higher.
- This kind of gossip can lead to more conflict.
- Office gossip can be considered bullying of the target and that can lead to major trauma.
How to Avoid and Get Rid of Office Gossip
Here are 10 tips on how to stop gossip in the workplace.
1. Open Door Policy & Mediated Meetings
Most times, office gossip tends to be caught too late. Having an open-door policy for your employees ensures they can come to you when they are troubled and therefore, they can air grievances. Once the complaint has been filed, you can mediate a meeting for an open and honest conversation between the target and those targeting them. Often, this leads to a swift resolution.
2. Zero Tolerance Policy
The first step towards anti-bullying policies is having no tolerance towards it. If an employee has been found guilty of gossip that has been deemed harmful in nature, they should face a penalty that is appropriate. This penalty can be a fine or if repeated, should lead to termination.
3. Company Wide Warning System
It is crucial that when you identify gossip becoming rampant, you send the entire company a mail addressing the issue without using names. This makes those who are gossiping aware of what they’re doing and gives them a chance to rectify their error.
4. Team-building Activities
Often, gossip begins due to a rift between employees. This can be resolved through hosting team-building activities where the target and those targeting them are placed in one team to build their relationship.
5. Written Warnings
Having a system in place for warning employees is essential for a change in atmosphere. Sending your employees a written mail, warning them about gossip or the nature of conversations will make the fact that it is inappropriate in the workplace known to your employees.
6. Closed Door Meetings
An effective way to handle gossip would be to summon the employees responsible one at a time into a closed-door meeting. Address the topic at hand with each of them and clear the air about any misunderstanding.
7. Sensitivity Seminars
A great way to deal with this type of conflict in the workplace is by sending the ones involved to an HR-driven sensitivity seminar.
8. Harassment Guideline
Including a written harassment guideline where gossip is highlighted as harassment is a great way of letting your employees know, at the time of their commencement, that gossip is not tolerated in the workplace.
9. Communication Workshops
Gossip tends to be a negative conversation that arises from jealousy or misunderstandings. All these are common and very human reactions. To manage this, holding communication workshops that train your employees in effective and productive ways to communicate will enhance positive workplace talk. This will help end gossip.
10. Encourage Privacy
Oversharing or communication of private matters at the workplace can lead to gossip. While not making it a rule, encourage your employees to discuss private and difficult matters with the management and to keep such things private among coworkers. Give your employees a guarantee that any communication with you (as the superior) is confidential.
What Can You Do If The Gossip is About You?
If the target of the gossip is you at the workplace, the way to manage it becomes a lot harder. Before filing a gossip workplace harassment claim, here are a few ways you can manage to address the problem.
1. Confront the Gossipers with Superiors
While this can be hard, address the issue openly in a meeting with the ones spreading the gossip. Ensure this is done with your immediate supervisor acting as a mediator.
2. Ignore it
Often, gossip is a shout for attention; ignore those who are indulging in gossip and spend your time being more productive with your work. Focus on your career and not idle gossip.
3. Verbal Complaint
If the gossip is hard to ignore, inform your higher-ups verbally. Often, they will have conflict resolution techniques to help.
4. Written Complaint
If verbal complaints don’t work, a written complaint is the next step. This is an effective way to put your higher-ups on notice that the gossip is harming you and you feel harassed.
5. HR Complaint
One of the last resorts to conflict management is filing a harassment claim with your HR company. This will force them to take action immediately. Beware though, this can be a drastic step that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
6. Legal Complaint
The final step in addressing gossip is a legal notice. This should only be done if your superiors cannot resolve the issue at all, or if they are the perpetrators or even if they side with the ones gossiping.
Dealing with office gossip can be hard and sensitive. The need for action is essential but the type of action can have repercussions. This is especially the case if the punishment for the gossip is too heavy. It is always best to give the ones in the wrong a few chances to change before taking any harmful actions against them.
Remember, if your employees or you feel harassed, it shouldn’t be hidden and should be made known to those in the wrong and your superiors. It is key that you understand the harm gossip can cause psychologically. If needed, seeing a therapist or having one come to the office to talk to those affected can be of great help. The most important thing to note is that you should never tolerate gossip. If someone confronts you about it, be open to what they have to say. You may have said something without intent to harm them but it can cause harm. Accept it, address it, and acknowledge their issues.