We talk about Gossip and Rumors and Hearsay

Published: 15th September 2009
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It is estimated that gossip and rumors within a company can cut productivity by as much as 50%. Of course this translates to lower profits and can negatively impact the company in the long-term. In addition, more employment laws and regulations are being drafted to ensure employees and companies are protected from libel and slander.

The reason gossip and rumors occur in the workplace is usually linked to a lack of clear communication channels up, down, and across the company. Henry David Thoreau stated that, "Nature abhors a vacuum." Put another way: A vacuum will always be filled. If your company has a communication vacuum it will be filled and unfortunately, it is often filled with negative or incorrect information. So one of the most important and lasting solutions business leaders can apply is to constantly keep the vacuum filled with positive, accurate, and timely information.

Following are suggestions to assist you in doing so:

- Communicate regularly and consistently with employees about what's going on in the workplace. Regular communications with employees minimizes the influence the gossiping employee has over others, because everyone is "in-the-know." If employees don't have good information from supervisors and managers about what is going on, they will make it up in the form of speculation and gossip. On your daily to do list, make communicating with employees a priority even if it is only for a few minutes. The added attention and communications will work wonders in stopping the gossip.

- Incorporate into your workplace expectations something that hits on not engaging in the spreading of gossip and rumors. For example you might set an expectation similar to the following:

"Do not participate in spreading gossip and rumors, and do not tolerate it from others. Rumors and gossip sabotage our team's ability to work together effectively. It is disrespectful, nonproductive, and a selfishly motivated act that keeps us all from performing our jobs. If you hear about an issue that pertains directly to you, verify the accuracy of the information by asking the person, rather than simply passing on the information."

- If you know someone is gossiping, tell him or her that you are aware of it. Describe how such behavior results in others not trusting them because, as a general rule, no one wants to be the subject of gossip. For some, this single statement will be a realization that will result in an immediate change for the better. Sometimes the employee doesn't fully understand why he or she engages in the behavior. He or she might not know the full impact that the behavior has on his or her own creditability within the team. Explain what the consequences will be if such behavior continues.

- During each staff meeting, add an agenda item titled "Rumors." Ask employees what they are hearing on the grapevine. Make a commitment that if they are willing to share what rumors they are hearing and will bring this information to you, you will in turn chase down the rumors and communicate your findings back to the group. Then do it.
Setting boundaries and expectations related to gossip, rumor, and hearsay gives permission to employees to hold each other mutually accountable for having a "gossip free" workplace. Make sure to have ongoing one-on-one and group discussions with employees about the negative impact gossip has on the workplace. Most employees will come to the same conclusion that supervisors and managers do, namely, that gossip is problematic to their workplace and they have some control and responsibility in making sure it does not occur.

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