How to Deal with Office Gossip

There’s an office gossip in every company. The only employee who thinks gardening means tending the office grapevine. The person who knows so much you’d swear s/he is bugging your office, and filling in the blanks with National Inquirer headlines.

Unquestionably, office gossip can be a thorn in management’s side. Chronic gossipmongers can undermine morale, weaken authority, and create unnecessary stress and tension. If an employee is spreading malicious or consistently false rumors, his or her behavior needs to be dealt with just like any other company problem. However, don’t think sitting an employee down and reading him or her the “riot act” will put an end to the office grapevine.

Let’s face it, people are going to talk. According to Video Arts, seventy-five percent of employees first hear about critical job-related matters through the office grapevine. As counterintuitive as it sounds, silence isn’t always golden when it comes to office rumors. The grapevine can be a valuable way to learn about your employee. Even when the content is false, as our lead-in quote points out, they often reflect an employee’s fears and concerns. Rather than putting your energy into squelching office rumors, your time might be better spent steering the flow of information in your favor. Here are four strategies that will help:

  1. Listen to what is said without losing your temper. Don’t go on a witch-hunt for the source of the information; instead, correct false rumors as quickly as possible.
  2. Provide as much accurate information into the office as is feasible. Use informal (spontaneous meetings, lunches) as well as formal (memos, bulletin boards) means of communication, but communicate critical information in person if at all possible.
  3. Be accessible. Let employees know they have a place to go with concerns and questions, so they won’t have to turn to the company grapevine for information.
  4. If you have a chronic gossiper, you need to confront him or her directly; let him or her know the rumors have to stop or s/he will be disciplined.  Give the employee positive, constructive alternatives to choose instead of the gossip.  After all, people who notice negatives can often help others identify what needs fixing so that they or their operations can be stronger.  Show him/her a reasonable, professional method for approaching the person who has the “observed weakness.”

British author Paul Scott said, “Ah well, the truth is always one thing, but it’s the other thing, the gossip, that counts. It shows where people’s heart lies.”  If gossip is widespread and rampant, chances are your employees either don’t know enough about what’s going on — or they’re afraid to speak up about it. So, while you don’t have control over what people say, you have more control than you think over how tempted they are to say it.

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