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Is a gossip crackdown a fool’s errand?

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Question: "My company has asked me to put together an instructional packet as part of an anti-gossip measure. People across all departments pretty much agree it leads to a lot of negativity here, so I have to assemble policies and articles and even scripts into something downloadable. I'll gladly do it, but I've accidentally started a debate within my team with my opinion that there's nothing we can do about gossip—it's natural and unstoppable and just has to run its course. I think this attempt to stifle it is a little silly. It's like trying to control the weather! What do others think?" - Kim, IT traffic assistant

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah July 24, 2015 at 9:26 pm

It is compelling to me that most, if not all, of these responses about gossip are from women. I would greatly like to hear a male’s take on the subject. Is it only women who feel victimized by gossip. Is it only other women that are being claimed as perpetrators? A broader social topic I know, but I am still curious none the less.

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Stacy June 19, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Some of these suggestions are pretty scary. A gossip jar? Really? I guess it’s just a decision about what level you want your office to be at, and if your boss is entrusting this to your judgment, I would go with the suggestions that Marlena and Jacqueline have so eloquently outlined. Having a ‘gossip jar’ is a punishment for children, it won’t stop anything, and it’s just as demeaning as the gossip itself. It would probably encourage gossip about those who are having to contribute to the gossip jar. If you treat people like children, they are going to act like children. We are adults, and even more so, professionals. The “human nature” to gossip is immature. Professionals do not gossip, they just work with fellow professionals who don’t gossip. I have been a victim of gossip, and I have to say that not only is it devastating, but it can drive people to the breaking point. It’s a malicious and vicious act which has NO place in the office, or anywhere else for that matter. If you make excuses for it, you are perpetuating it and I think that should make employers liable. It should be in your charter, laid down and treated as law. If more employers did this standard, it would help to eliminate it.

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Marlena December 20, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Gossip – information about the behavior and personal lives of other people;
a person who often talks about the private details of other people’s lives

I’m actually disappointed to read that people really believe gossip is a part of human nature. Gossip is a learned behavior…a very destructive, wasteful, inappropriate, unprofessional learned behavior. It has no place in the professional work environment and needs to be stopped. I believe Jackqueline’s idea of adding it to the Code of Conduct is brilliant. If you stipluate from the very beginning of employment that gossip will not be tolerated, and make people accountable for violating the Code of Conduct, then there will be less (if any) gossip and fewer unhappy people in the workplace.

I personally work in an environment with a group of women (nurses) who have been recentlly called to meet with an employment counselor because of their shameless, hurtful, gossiping behavior. They’ve been given the ultimatum and informed that this behavior will no longer be tolerated and people will lose their jobs. When you make people accountable and start threatening their wallets…it gets the message across.

I’m very happy the women I work with have been called out on their behavior because they have made this environment utterly miserable for so many people. Gossip is a waste of time, serves no productive purpose and does nothing but upset and demean those who are gossiped about. I for one think it needs to stop altogether. Leave the gossip to the gossip magazines

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Jackqueline December 18, 2014 at 8:23 pm

I don’t believe that you should have a separate policy, it will have more weight if it is part of your Code of Conduct, and support / enforced by the supervisors / managers that every employee signs when they first start.

We have these headings in our Code of Conduct:
Definitions
Policy Commitments
The Company will
Integrity – we must
Respect – we must
Diligence and excellence – we must
Economy and Efficiency – we must
Confidentiality and provision of information – we must
System of law and reasonable direction – we must
Justices of the Peace
Expected outcomes
Related documentation

And were gossip is dealt within these headings

Our Company will, (and the first line is): Provide all staff members with a safe and harassment-free workplace which encourages and recognises practices of innovation and quality service.

Respect – we must
• Treat co-workers and members of the public with respect and dignity giving consideration to the rights and views of others.
• Consider other’s emotional, physical and intellectual circumstances as well as religious, ethnic, cultural and other beliefs and practices.
• Not engage in or encourage discrimination, harassment, bullying or intimidation and report any such behaviour.
• Maintain appropriate professional relationships with co-workers and clients. This includes refraining from the use of bad language, gossiping or other negative forms of communication.
• Managers and Executive staff are expected to set a good example by their own behaviour and treat all staff members with equality, fairness and consistency.
• Encourage, praise and reward effort.
• Maintain transparent decision-making processes.

If these items are not in your code of conduct, how can you say what they are doing is wrong? how can you hold staff accountable? Everyone, as you are no doubt finding out, has a different idea to what is acceptable.

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Cheryl Galowitch December 18, 2014 at 7:48 pm

In my opinion, all companies should have a policy around gossip and what will be tolerated and what will not. Hand-in-hand with that is an open-door policy to allow employees to report gossip issues without fear of repercussion from anyone – this will effectively end the culture. I don’ think there is any place in business for it nor is it profitable nor healthy for any business.

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Karen December 18, 2014 at 6:39 pm

I completely agree with you !! And for some unknown cosmos reason upper management just doesnt seem to “get” some people are just natural gossipers!! And to task an admin to come up with ways to tackle it is unfair. Leave it to HR and it will quickly be realized there isnt much that can be done about it. If the gossip is detrimental to the moral of the office or it is of a particularly personal or vicious attack then the offending person should suffer consequences.

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Kelly December 18, 2014 at 6:32 pm

I agree that it might be close to impossible to completely stop the gossip, but I agree with many of the suggestions that were added as comments. I would focus on Nell’s response in that if someone starts gossiping to you, nip it in the bud and tell the person you’re not interested. If enough people did this, eventually the gossiper(s) would have no one to gossip to. We can all hope anyway, right.

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Paula Elizabeth Powell December 18, 2014 at 5:21 pm

I think you need to make signs for the office like the non-smoking signs. Then at the end of a quarter, reward the person no one has heard gossiping about anyone – that would be saying an unkind or negative comment about a co-worker – some type of reward – like a gift certificate for example. Gossip is toxic because it is negative. Even if we are just sharing information, we need to be careful because it gets misinterpreted and incorrect information is shared along the way. It is a habit that we all need to temper in our personal and professional lives. We need to expose gossip for what it is – a troublesome, empty pastime.

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Terron December 18, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Gossip is a particular type of conversation. Talking about other people may be a natural human habit, but how we do it and what kinds of topics are said are probably some things that should be addressed. What should be taken into consideration is if the person being talked about is present or not. If you would feel guilty and ashamed with what is being said if the person was in the same room, then that’s gossip and it can be worked on to be reduced/eliminated. Whereas if you say something about someone, present or not, and don’t feel like you have to look around first, then that should be more acceptable conversation.

I hope you reconsider that this idea is silly because it’s a good idea. Gossip is very negative. I imagine you’ll get extreme variance of responses and feedback when your anti-gossip measure is implemented, but I’m willing to bet the ones who need it most will give the most criticism. Good luck!

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Diane J-H December 18, 2014 at 4:20 pm

I think about the gossip I’d like to hear about myself. Of course, I want it all to be good stuff, fun stuff, and sometimes silly stuff. I’ll even take complimentary stuff. To get that kind of gossip back, that’s the kind of gossip I like to spread. Today I spread gossip about Christmas decorations (the CEO really liked what someone in our department did, and I passed it along to the person) and how well another person dealt with an unhappy client (to that person’s face AND in front of others). For me, I think it’s about the kind of gossip you spread.

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Nell Sylte December 18, 2014 at 4:04 pm

That’s a grea idea about the Gossip Jar. I don’t listen to gossip and if a peson has a burning desire to share I let them know it stops here. I will not carry the gossip further. if someone gossips to you about another person they are probably gossiping about you to someone else.

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Samantha Pell December 18, 2014 at 9:01 am

I think you’re right on one hand, because this is just what people do and it sounds like the company is asking for something that goes against human nature. But I remember that at one place I worked, a few people had ‘gossip jars’ on their desks, so if you wanted to gossip, you ‘had’ to put some change in there. It sounds funny, but just the sight of those jars made me think personally about how negative I could get sometimes. They didn’t last long of course, but it can the most light-hearted solutions that work instead of very serious handouts and training.

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