Jamie walks into the break room and overhears two other coworkers talking near the fridge. Suddenly they realize Jamie’s there and immediately stop their conversation. They close the fridge, walk by Jamie without speaking to her, and leave the room. Ever since Jamie’s argument with a coworker, Chris, more and more of her office-mates seem to be ignoring her. Despite the fact that she’s a valuable employee and contributes a great deal to the company, all of the drama means that Jamie no longer feels comfortable at work. It’s not long before she starts to look for another job.
This may sound like the plot of an after-school special, but unfortunately, this kind of situation is common in workplaces across the country. Office gossip is the scourge of the office environment and can lead to lower morale, diminished teamwork, and higher turnover.
Kelly Herring supervises a group of dental assistants in a busy practice. She has managed many difficult situations, including office gossip. She told The FruitGuys Magazine, “Gossip in the workplace is an issue that creates dissension between coworkers. If the staff is allowed to talk about each other in a negative, insensitive way, the morale of the whole office will go down, and production, as well as team togetherness, will be affected.”
But you don’t have to let office gossip tear apart your team. Here are some strategies from seasoned office managers to help you create an environment where gossip can’t take hold and spread.
Create the Culture
To reduce gossip, first you have to pin down what it is. It’s easier to create a zero-tolerance culture when you know exactly what you aren’t tolerating. As you’re crafting your policy, think about how you’ll define gossip. Some organizations rule that sharing private information or hurtful criticism counts as gossip. Make sure you’ve clearly communicated to your team what gossip is and that it won’t be tolerated.
By addressing gossip in a proactive way and creating clear boundaries, your team will have a better handle on what is or is not a workplace norm. Kelly Herring adds, “In order for a work environment to stay healthy, gossip must not be tolerated in the workplace.”
Follow the Leader
As an office supervisor or a human resources manager, it may be up to you to set the stage.
“When the staff sees me leading by example and looking for ways to build the team members up, they begin to follow suit. I am a firm believer that the speed of the leader will be the speed of the team. It is crucial that the leadership is positive and uplifting to the team. If the leadership is negative and judgmental, the staff will be too,” Herring explains.
Leaders can create a positive work culture by paying attention to how they speak about their colleagues. Resist the temptation to speak in an unprofessional way about other people in the office. That doesn’t mean you have to close your ears completely: as a manager, you may need to be a resource if someone needs to discuss something. But put some critical distance between you and the subject. Instead of getting involved, allow yourself to listen to the concern and help find a way to resolve the tension between team members. Yuliya Dennis, director of Alumni Career Services at Oregon State University, told The FruitGuys Magazine, “You don’t need to agree with what is said for someone to feel like they are heard. Respond with a statement such as ‘I can see that that was tough for you,’ and then redirect the conversation to something about them and what they are doing to address the situation. This can help the person feel heard and keep the conversation away from gossiping.”
One way to combat negative talk is to actively promote a positive work atmosphere. Kelly Herring found that focusing on building her employees up helps them feel more fulfilled in the work they do, and ultimately creates a more effective team. “At staff meetings, we … write positive traits that we appreciate about one another.” She also makes sure that employees are recognized for their hard work in front of others.
Yuliya Dennis explains, “We all play a role in creating a positive office environment. We can do that by appreciating the efforts of others, being a good listener, and believing that everyone is doing their best… Having another person believe in you has a powerful impact on your ability to believe in yourself.”
All Together Now
If you work in an environment that has been prone to gossip, commit as a team to support a no-gossip zone at work. With a prior commitment to fall back on, coworkers can safely remind a gossip-monger that speaking poorly of someone is against policy. Make it a team effort, and it will no longer be just the manager’s job to deflect the most divisive form of communication.
Herring explains that it’s also important to stay consistent with consequences. In her workplace, coworkers who gossip “will be given a written warning. Usually, if people value their job, this will nip it in the bud. It is never profitable to close your eyes and think that the situation will disappear. It is best to address gossiping situations as soon as they arise.”
Dana Lester has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. She is passionate about holistic wellness, eating fruit, and writing.