We’ve all seen it happen. An employee is unhappy about something at work, but rather than speaking up they turn to negative gossiping in the corridors. They become toxic to a workplace by attempting to convert everyone to their angry view of the situation. If this person is persuasive, well-liked or carries weight in the organisation they can do a tremendous amount of damage in a short time. They may even get other loyal employees on their side, thereby turning a storm in a teacup into a gale force wind.
By not speaking up when the issue arises and electing to talk in whispers to other staff, it’s fair to say that the employee in question hasn’t taken the most professionally mature path.
But is that really their fault? Does your workplace culture make people feel they can speak up? And how dangerous is gossip to a business?
Almost all employees gossip. In fact a recent Harvard Business School study puts the percentage of gossiping employees at 96%; yes I was astounded too.
The same study also concluded that there’s no point banning gossip or punishing those that do gossip, as that will backfire, making the problem worse. Some gossip even relieves stress and circulates information, but in a situation like the one described above, it can easily get out of hand and damage morale and productivity.
If you’re the person gossiping negatively, give real thought to how you are affecting everyone around you, as well as yourself.
- Do you want the situation resolved? If so, speak to the manager.
- If the manager is not receptive, speak to HR or a higher authority figure.
- Give some thought to other career options if you feel that the company no longer fits your goals.
- If you are just venting and have no clear reason in doing so, then limit your venting to a close friend and don’t disrupt other’s working lives and job satisfaction with your unhappiness.
- Whatever you do decide, try to draw a line under the episode and move forward; holding on to stress and anger is unhealthy from both a career and personal standpoint.
If you are the manager in charge of a gossiping employee who can often turn hostile, it is crucial to act in order to limit the potential damage to your team.
- Have a one-on-one with the employee; this will more than likely bring the situation to a head. Being asked about it directly will often lead them to being honest about their frustrations, and you can decide where to go from there. Some people advise formal warnings for negative gossiping, but there is an excellent chance this will make the individual more hostile and give other team members the sense that the company can’t take criticism.
- Call a team meeting afterwards to address the tension. Be understanding and positive by showing that you know a few things have been bothering people. Use this meeting to talk about all the positive things going on rather than focussing on the bad, but also make the point that gossiping can tear a team apart and hurt productivity. Declare a clean slate to clear residual guilt or tension and then see how the situation progresses.
However, if there is serious negative gossip taking place in an organisation over a sustained period then the fault is probably not with the employees, but with the work culture.
Common reasons for a negative gossip culture:
- It has become the status quo to complain; a good whine around the coffee machine has become a familiar way to start the day. There will be long-term employees who engage in gossiping simply as a daily ritual; make sure you clarify that things have to change, and re-organise the team where necessary.
- You don’t communicate enough. Gossip flourishes when people are speculating because no one is telling employees anything. Call a meeting to get everyone on the same page.
- The managers encourage gossip so that they can get information. You must lead by example and stop adding to the gossip culture.
- The employees have lost the faith that their jobs are secure or have lost faith in the company. The last is the hardest one of all to turn around, but it can be done with excellent leadership and motivation.
Often in negative work cultures, the gossip is not the problem; rather there are core conflicts and issues that have not been addressed. If it is not just a few isolated disgruntled employees but many, then there is a much deeper problem to resolve than a mere office gossip problem.
The subject of another blogpost.
Until next time,