Am I at Work or in High School?

Dealing with the “mean girls” in the workplace.

Let’s face it: Gossip is part of our everyday lives and usually has a negative connotation. What creates gossip are conversations about someone else that include facts that may not be true. Gossip also can be about an organization, not just a person. This is why it is so common to hear gossip in the workplace. Research has found that 66 percent of any conversation between two employees is some form of gossip, and 14 percent of what employees chat about during work breaks includes workplace gossip. And contrary to this article’s deck, gossip can come from anybody in the workplace, regardless of gender, job title, or tenure.

Now, the facts above may come as a surprise to you since topics such as sensitivity, workplace culture, and diversity have been a huge focus for organizations and HR professionals. But think about it for a second. How many times have you heard that there might be a visit from the head office, or that Sally might be getting a promotion? Conversations such as these may seem mundane, but, in reality, if a workplace allows such conversations to continue, not only will employee performance go down, but organizational effectiveness will decline, too.

The negative effects of gossip can include cynicism and anxiety among employees. Imagine this scenario: Jim has been working at ABC company for several years and is planning to apply for an internal posting. Jim has accumulated quite a bit of seniority and believes he is a shoe-in for the position. Meanwhile, Layla, a relatively new hire, also is planning to apply for the same position and is relying on her qualifications to perform well in the interview and get the job. One day, Layla walks past the breakroom and overhears Jim telling a colleague he has a good chance of getting the position because seniority is given a higher weight in the interview than experience. Now put yourself in Layla’s shoes. You’re probably feeling even more anxious because even though you felt you did well in the interview, there is a good chance you won’t get the job. You’re probably also feeling a bit resentful toward the company for not conducting the internal hiring fairly. Why shouldn’t a more qualified person receive the position regardless of seniority, right?

Obviously, not everyone in Layla’s shoes will react poorly to overhearing what Jim said, but it can happen. An employee in Layla’s situation could lose his or her motivation at work. He or she can passively complete tasks or even start rumors about the company or its employees. If the behavior isn’t stopped, it can create a toxic work environment, and then the company will have an even bigger problem on its hands.

Zero-Tolerance Policy

So what can we do? Well, the best thing for a manager to do is to prevent it altogether. Ensure that there is a zero-tolerance policy for gossip in the workplace and make sure the policy details the repercussions for such behaviors. In addition, be transparent about workplace issues and processes. For example, if there is a possibility of layoffs, communicate all relevant information to employees as soon as possible. If your organization posts positions internally, be sure interviews are carried out in a consistent manner and be able to justify your decision should it ever be questioned. Lastly, if gossip does occur, stop it immediately. Encourage employees to come forward and report any acts of gossip that may be occurring; sometimes a general e-mail reminding all employees of a certain policy is enough to stop the behavior.

Be Proactive

Creating a gossip-free workplace doesn’t stop at the manager level, however. Employees also must be proactive in preventing gossip in the workplace. Always conduct yourself with integrity; reflect on your actions and how they may be perceived. Make an effort to change workplace conversations—talk about topics and not people. Be mindful that you are not gossiping, and ask your colleagues to help keep you accountable (hopefully, they will ask the same of you, too!). Lastly, if you do come across someone gossiping about you, don’t retaliate. Stay calm and approach the situation in a tactful manner. Approach the person directly and ask him or her to stop. If this is not enough, speak to your supervisor and follow your workplace’s policies and procedures for workplace conduct.

In this day and age, teamwork is so important in the workplace, so why ruin it with an old habit? If all managers and employees follow the tips above to prevent and manage gossip, imagine how much more productive everyone would be. There is no better feeling than coming to work and working hard not because you have to, but because you want to. And eliminating gossip is guaranteed to get you one step closer to that feeling!

Joy Marlinga is the Operations coordinator for Oculus Training, a British Columbia-based corporate training and mystery shopping company offering sales management, reservations, sensitivity, and customer service training programs for a variety of service-based industries throughout Canada, the U.S., and the world. For more information, call 888.OCULUS4 or visit www.oculustraining.com. You also can connect with Oculus on Twitter @oculustraining, via e-mail at peoplecare@oculustraining.com or visit it on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube.

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