Workplace Gossips – Controlling The Rumour Mill

Gossip and rumours cannot be completely avoided in the workplace. Everyone works together very closely, and work teams develop a close rapport with one another. Some of the gossip is not damaging at all. In fact, it is primarily people sharing their private lives with each other and everyone is fairly secure in the information. However, there does come times when rumours are damaging and serious distractions from the task at hand. Whispers about possible changes and even layoffs can run like a wildfire through the office area. These are extremely damaging to morale and may result in people starting to look for work elsewhere. Understanding that idle chatter is going to happen the rumour mill itself has to be managed carefully.

Address the Issue

Rumours about work conditions may get out of hand and cause some productivity issues. This cannot be allowed to happen for the good of the order. Management needs to act swiftly in these cases and decisively as well. There are some highly effective means in which to do this.

  • Do not punish the Messenger. Someone who is the bearer of bad tidings is taking a risk, but the information tells of potential problems. A reprimand will go a long way in shutting down communication and make staff very reluctant to share anything with management
  • Confront those who are Spreading Vicious Rumours. There are people who use gossip as a political weapon in the office. It is their way of getting those they consider competition out of the way. If a supervisor discovers someone is dealing in these underhanded practices, the gossiper has to be confronted. It is an uncomfortable situation where the person has to verify facts but that is all right. It sends a message that unsubstantiated rumours or vicious gossip will not go unchallenged.
  • It is the Issue not the Person. Office rumours have to be taken care of but management cannot effectively prevent staff from talking to each other. Idle speculation, unfortunately, is part of every work area. The false tale itself should be taken seriously instead of demanding to know who started it.
  • Verify the Rumour. Even though at its core this is an exaggeration, it can even worse if the full story is not known. Questions should be used to bring out all the details. Incidentally, this is not an invitation to an interrogation. No one who is being asked questions ought to feel their job is on the line.
  • Define a Solution to the Problem. Ultimately, an answer has to come from management which will resolve whenever a rumour has started. Solutions might not by themselves satisfy everyone but they will effectively end harmful chatter.
  • Low Keyed and Professional Responses. The solution giving is not a time for pompous statements or reflections. People should be allowed to reach their own conclusions. A manager gains more credibility by using an objective and professional tone.
  • Handle Company Wide Rumours with Effective Communication An easy way to do this is to send out an email to everyone addressing the issue. This allows the company to explain what is really going on. That type of communication is very simple to do and goes a long way to dispel the negative side of any gossip. The idle talk dies down once people know the facts.
Lead by Example

Supervisors and managers can help control the damage by setting a good example on the work floor. It simply means refusing to participate in idle gossip and not spreading any unsubstantiated comments. It means a little bit of distance between the supervisor and the staff but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Supervisors do have to keep in mind the reputation and feelings of employees. If a particularly damaging bit of gossip is being spread about an employee on the work team, supervisors should investigate it immediately. Any stories dealing with the workplace have to be checked on with corrections made to the text of the message.

Should Gossip Mongers be disciplined?

The employee handbook needs to be consulted before crossing that line. Any language which encourages open communication will be used as a defence by the offender. There is a risk employees may feel they are not allowed to comment about work conditions that are unsatisfactory. Silence in a situation like this is counterproductive but disciplining an employee may not be a good idea. However, there is a major exception.

The employee handbook may be very specific about any form of harassment. This may include verbal or sexual harassment. In this situation some form of disciplinary action may be in order but it depends on the handbook itself. Should gossip cross the line into harassment then the right disciplinary procedure must be followed to the letter.

Establish or Refine an Office Communication Policy

A company can establish a communication policy that encourages open communication and the same time deals with rumours and gossip. Management can point out what is considered to be unacceptable communication, and let the employees know what it means. Those who persist in gossip may be reminded of the consequences of such unacceptable behaviour. It might not mean termination, but the very least it could reflect on annual performance reviews.

A new policy on rumours must be read by everyone. This means distributing copies and asking people to sign their copy, indicating the new policy has been read. The document can then be placed in the individual’s personal file. The signature prevents the person from later claiming he or she did not read it

No one can totally eliminate gossip or rumours in the workplace. The best that management can do is control any damage that may result. Nevertheless, efforts to keep conversations civil and factual are very important to morale and productivity. The employee lounge gossip is not always a problem but things may get out of hand. Being able to handle the rumour mill professionally and with objective solutions helps. Keeping the chat under control prevents employee conversations from taking attention away from work and meeting goals.

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