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Whether you love it or hate it, you just can’t avoid the office grapevine. Whenever people get together, gossip seems unavoidable. Some people consider rumors and gossip to be harmless; others think it is a natural reaction to change. When employees are not able to show dissent openly, they may satisfy the need for information by discussing confidential matters with their colleagues or peers to reduce anxiety. A study published by Harvard Business Review in 2010 suggested workplace gossip might reduce stress among employees.
When Gossip Hurts
When the purpose of the rumor or gossip is to malign another employee or her ability, it can cause tremendous harm to the culture of the workplace. In this age of social media, it’s easy to spread rumors and discuss others. Proactive organizations put together documents and training sessions for employees to address sensitive issues related to rumor mongering and gossip that affect productivity and morale in the workplace.
Tips for Training
Evaluate the current training programs in the organization. Training about gossip doesn't have to be a separate training program, although it can be. All the company's training sessions can contain relevant aspects of training about gossip. For example, diversity training and team-building sessions can include aspects of how to better understand and respect others and different cultures. Similarly, business etiquette training can incorporate the distinction between networking and gossip and how it can affect the company image. Time management and productivity training can incorporate the link between gossip and lowered productivity.
Policy to Raise Awareness
Put in place a policy to illustrate acceptable and nonacceptable behavior by employees to reduce the risk of discrimination-related grievances. It is not enough to document a policy about gossip and rumors. Share the policy with the employees in group sessions that are conducted by senior members of the company to demonstrate the seriousness the company attaches to the policy and to increase employee buy-in.
When Gossiping Leads to Bullying
Lurking at the extreme end of the gossip spectrum is workplace bullying. What may seem harmless rumors to some, may amount to bullying for the targeted employee. Depression, suicide and violence are some of the effects that may manifest in victims of workplace bullying. Permanent damage to the affected employee, both in terms of physical and mental health, is likely. Any company that permits bullying in the workplace, faces the possibility of lawsuits.
Be a Role Model
Don’t indulge in any gossip yourself. As a leader, you should not feel the need to gossip to feel plugged in, liked or be informed about your team. Being a leader makes you accountable for preventing random gossip in the workplace.
Manasi Bhat is a senior human resource professional with eight years of experience including heading and managing the HR department for a multinational organization. She received a SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources) from the Human Resource Certification Institute.