Gossip in the workplace is disruptive and can be costly to businesses by reducing productivity. So what should you do when you discover that an employee is gossiping?
Conversations that are negative about others, or are intended to elevate the gossiper, rarely have a positive outcome and can be a form of workplace bullying. Whether it is about another employee or the company, it is important that this toxic behavior is addressed immediately and be disciplined if necessary.
A 2017 survey by the National Workplace Bullying Institute found that:
- 19 percent of Americans are bullied, another 19 percent witness it.
- 61 percent of U.S. workers are aware of abusive conduct in the workplace.
- 61 percent of bullies are bosses, and the majority (63 percent) operate alone.
- To make the bullying stop, 65 percent of targets leave their jobs.
- 29 percent of targets remain silent about their experiences.
*Definition of workplace bullying is, repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. Abusive conduct that includes, threatening, humiliating or intimidating, or work interference and verbal abuse.
The federal government has even developed a “stop bullying” initiative with links of interest through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Set guidelines to deal with gossip or disruptive behavior
Employers should set guidelines to avoid disruptive conversation in the workplace. Limiting offensive language and attacks on co-workers can and should be enforced. Guidelines should state that anyone who discriminates against or attacks colleagues, or participates in conversations that are disruptive, will not be tolerated and that anyone that engages in this type of behavior will be disciplined.
Some offensive language can also be considered harassment or discrimination under the law. It’s important that you set guidelines as to what is appropriate and what is disruptive. If such behavior goes unaddressed it may cause an unruly environment that can spread throughout the organization.
Handle discipline in person as much as possible
Whether you need to speak with a group of individuals, or a single employee, address the behavior before it becomes an even bigger problem. It’s also important to address these matters in private. Difficult matters should not be handled by email, texts and avoid phone calls if you can. It may be necessary to investigate a rumor or gossiping to get a better understanding of the issue which, in turn, may reveal an underlying problem that exists.
If you’re addressing a group, it is important not to point fingers at any one individual, but to let them know that you are aware of the situation and that you expect that no one will engage in this type of behavior again. If you’re having a one-on-one discussion, you want to be clear that the toxic behavior is not acceptable and document your discussion.
Does your organization’s code of conduct address gossip and rumors? BCN Services can help you add language to your policy manual or offer guidance in how to deal with a workplace situation. Contact us anytime.
Hayley Motts, HR Administrator