Is Gossip Feeding Your Employees with Anxiety?

Office gossip and rumors have long been a thorn in the side of employers. A recent study by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) reported an increase in the level of inter-office rumors, gossip, and eavesdropping as a result of the current state of economy and increased employee anxiety about job cuts. The survey participants reported that more than half experienced an increase in the gossip and rumors surrounding downsizing and layoffs within their organizations.

According to Eyren Esen, SHRM Survey Manager, “Everyone is on guard, and they have their ears perked up for any information that may give them a sense of clarity about what’s going on at their organization. Because people feel threatened and scared, they’re more likely to do things they wouldn’t normally do.” This includes snooping activities such as listening in on closed-door meetings, peeking at confidential e-mails or sharing second-hand information with co-workers.

In addition to making for an unhappy workplace rumors and gossip can have a profoundly negative effect on morale and productivity. HR professionals surveyed by SHRM reported a 23% increase in the amounted of eavesdropping activities, such as lingering outside of a conference room, and a 54% increase in gossip/rumors about downsizing and layoffs. The same HR professionals provided the feedback below on how they have addressed these issues in their workplaces (multiple response options were allowed);

  • 64% Held a special staff meeting
  • 38%  A letter from the CEO/top management to staff
  • 20% An e-mail newsletter was sent to staff
  • 10% A video address from the CEO/top management
  • 3% A special letter mailed to staff homes

One of the main causes of gossip and rumors in the workplace is communication or more specifically the lack of communication in many organizations.  Unusual and unexplained events can spark rumors among employees. If the organization and/or the management team do not quickly and effectively manage the rumors/gossip they can take on a like of their own which can damage both productivity and morale.

Legal suggests that organizations should start by addressing some of the most common causes of widespread gossip, which are outlined below;

  • Lack of communication. Foster an environment of open and honest communication. Keep employees informed about good and bad news to decrease their need to speculate and contribute to or rely on the office grapevine.
  • Ignorance. Make sure employees are fully aware that starting and spreading rumors and gossip is unacceptable.
  • Lack of respect. Managers must enforce workplace rules so employees understand the boundaries of bad behavior. This helps send the message that troublemakers (including rumormongers) will not be tolerated.
  • Cliques. Managers should physically separate members of cliques by moving them to different workspaces in order to cut down gossip time.

Some additional ideas for managing gossip are;

  • Periodically distribute a companywide memo that reiterates that starting and spreading rumors is inappropriate. Remind employees that persistent gossipers will be subject to discipline.
  • Performance appraisals can be a deterrent to gossiping. The spreading of rumors should be taken into consideration when rating employees on teamwork, cooperation, integrity, productivity, etc.
  • Assign more work. If employees have time to stand around gossiping, obviously they have the time to take on additional tasks and projects.

Unfortunately rumors and gossip are a part of life and can not be completely eliminated from any workplace, steps can be taken to control and minimize its effects. Organizations should use solid communication channels, provide training, and implement and/or enforce workplace policies to make the workplace a positive environment. Click here to read the interesting poem about the gossip.

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