Gossip is a part of life, and it seems so harmless. But the recent dismissal of the head of legal services for Northumbria Police for “gossiping” to other staff about legal advice she had given to senior officers regarding allegations against them has thrown the serious consequences of chitchat into sharp relief.
Indeed, a little gossip over a coffee break can be potentially destructive in the workplace.
The dangers of gossip
You may feel uneasy about raising the issue of gossip with your staff, and worry that they will think you are treating them like a bunch of high school pupils rather than an adult workforce. However, there really is no positive outcome to workplace gossip. It can be detrimental not only for the employees involved, but also for the business as a whole.
The consequences are many. Trust and morale can break down, causing productivity to be lost and time wasted. It is likely that anxiety among employees will increase in an environment of distrust, and there is a greater risk of formal grievances being brought forward.
After all, gossiping is a divisive activity; people take sides which causes hurt feelings and reputations, and disruption among employees. In some cases, valued staff end up leaving the company.
What employers can do
Managers can often feel uncertain or powerless about how to stop workplace gossip getting out of hand. It is perhaps unrealistic to aim to eradicate it from the workplace altogether, but you can take steps to control and contain it without creating a big brother environment.
One thing employees may gossip about is what management is or isn’t doing. Rather than allowing speculation to turn into fabrication, communicate regularly with your workforce about what is going on.
Open communication minimises the need for gossip because everyone is in the know. When employees believe they have sufficient information, they’ll spend less time gossiping and more time working.
Have a no gossip policy
It might sound draconian, but consider discouraging gossip in an official policy. An anti-harassment and bullying policy would be the obvious place to deal with this.
Read more: The legal side of airing your views at work
Convey to your employees that such talk is detrimental to morale and productivity and be sure to provide a definition of the behaviour that constitutes gossip as well as ways you will deal with it. Make sure that employees understand that gossip will not be tolerated and that it could amount to a form of bullying.
If employees understand your position that gossip can be damaging to the working environment, they will be less inclined to engage in unfounded conversations. Educating them about what exactly gossip means may work wonders in preventing it. Ask them: would they repeat a piece of gossip in front of the person they are talking about?
If someone comes to you complaining of gossip, or if you know that a particular member of staff is a gossip, it is important to speak to the offender.
It might be an awkward conversation, but swift intervention can stop the problem from getting worse. It is important to explain to the individual that their behaviour is damaging. It could be enough to produce an immediate change in their conduct.