Top Tips for Managing Workplace Gossips

by | 3 minute read

Work­place gos­sip. You know it’s a prob­lem. Your employ­ees are say­ing one thing through your organization’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels. And, they’re say­ing some­thing entire­ly dif­fer­ent, and often hurt­ful, through the infor­mal chan­nels. Man­agers need to mon­i­tor what’s hap­pen­ing in the gos­sip chan­nel. It’s also key for them to screen out can­di­dates whose pen­chant for gos­sip is like­ly to make them tox­ic hires.

The Research

Over the past few years, aca­d­e­m­ic researchers have point­ed out that gos­sip has long exist­ed in all orga­ni­za­tions. The ten­den­cy to whis­per about oth­ers and about what is going on grows because there’s a desire to have infor­ma­tion. In fact, not all gos­sip is neg­a­tive. Your team mem­bers are also like­ly to whis­per about whether the com­pa­ny is being bought or sold and how that event might improve their posi­tions.

Researchers explain that the role of gos­sip is “to inform, to enter­tain, and to influ­ence norm-enforcing mech­a­nism in groups.” For exam­ple, if every­one in the office is veg­e­tar­i­an and a new employ­ee eats a ham sand­wich for lunch every day, gos­sip will start. The par­tic­i­pants will talk about the new employee’s eat­ing habits, often until the indi­vid­ual changes their behav­ior.

Gos­sip has been found to play a role as a safe­ty valve by pro­vid­ing a means for stress relief and emo­tion­al sup­port,” researchers say. Most peo­ple gos­sip in the work­place. While gos­sip­ing may be an infor­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nel, it’s the manager's job to track what's going on.

The Manager’s Role

Employ­ees who spread gos­sip about a co-worker are engag­ing in behav­ior that close­ly mim­ics bul­ly­ing. And that's when a man­ag­er needs to step in. In a Robert Half col­umn, edi­tors remind us that these employ­ees are under­min­ing their own cred­i­bil­i­ty. Once peo­ple know an employ­ee is a gos­sip, they have to won­der if that per­son is spread­ing rumors about them. Man­agers should remind gos­sips that they are hurt­ing their rep­u­ta­tions.

Good man­agers don't stop there. An out-of-control gos­sip mill means your for­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels aren’t work­ing prop­er­ly. Hold more meet­ings and stay pos­i­tive. Focus on how employ­ees are meet­ing goals and solic­it their input on which tasks they’d like to tack­le going for­ward. Do not engage in any gos­sip. By exhibit­ing the kind of behav­ior you want to see in the orga­ni­za­tion, you can influ­ence the cul­ture in a pos­i­tive way.

You’ll like­ly nev­er entire­ly elim­i­nate gos­sip though. That’s why researchers say that “gos­sip net­works can thus serve as a diag­nos­tic tool for man­agers who are attempt­ing to under­stand the cur­rent state of the work­force.”

Avoid Hiring A Gossip

As a hir­ing man­ag­er, you know there are cer­tain types of employ­ees that can make or break an orga­ni­za­tion. While every­one indulges in a bit of gos­sip now and then, some indi­vid­u­als tend toward tox­i­c­i­ty. These are indi­vid­u­als who mea­sure their self-worth by the reac­tion they get when they reveal gossip-worthy details to co-workers. These folks also exag­ger­ate and jump to con­clu­sions, ulti­mate­ly dam­ag­ing com­pa­ny cul­ture. These are also the kind of peo­ple you don't want to hire. The lat­est fea­ture in Sales­Fu­el COACH, Tox­i­c­i­ty Index­ing, will help man­agers screen out can­di­dates that score high for a ten­den­cy to gos­sip.

Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice Pres­i­dent of Research for Sales­Fu­el. She holds a Mas­ters in Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ver­mont and over­sees a staff of researchers, writ­ers and con­tent providers for Sales­Fu­el. Pre­vi­ous­ly, she was co-owner of sev­er­al small busi­ness­es in the health care ser­vices sec­tor.