Canada's business magazine for traditional natural health retailers

3 minutes reading time (655 words)

Gossip in the workplace

Does gossip in your workplace matter? If you define it as the Oxford Dictionary does as "casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true," gossip wastes staff time which lowers productivity, and diverts attention from customers which could impact sales. "..."

Does gossip in your workplace matter?  If you define it as the Oxford Dictionary does as “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true,” gossip wastes staff time which lowers productivity, and diverts attention from customers which could impact sales.

If you define it as the Longman English Dictionary Online does as "information that is passed from one person to another about other people's behaviour and private lives, often including unkind or untrue remarks," gossip hurts teamwork and morale. And that affects productivity, too.

Set the tone

Some say there's nothing you can do about gossip except to ignore it. But leadership can make a big difference. It starts with modeling the behaviour you want.

Maintain confidentiality when you discuss personnel issues. Be aware of being overheard. If you can't carve out a confidential space anywhere in your store, certain conversations may have to take place outdoors, in a car, in a coffee shop, after store hours – whatever it takes to keep it private.

Refrain from venting – releasing strong feelings about certain customers or employees – to your staff. The conventional wisdom is that venting relieves pressure so that we can calm down and get back to work. However, research suggests that talking about something can reinforce neural pathways so that we focus on it even more. Venting can further entrench the speaker in negative feelings, and poison the mind of the listener.

Set clear expectations

Some natural food retailers have developed a code of conduct for the leadership team, with the involvement of all the managers. An item in one store's code: "I will refrain from talking negatively about others when to do so is not constructive, especially to others who have no ability or authority to resolve the perceived problem."

A small store involved all employees in developing and then signing on to a code that includes, "I will support direct communication. I will not support or initiate gossip." In interviews, applicants are shown the code and all new hires are expected to sign it and abide by it.

In creating a code of conduct, the process is as important as the product. When people have struggled together to define what words mean, they will feel more committed to the resulting code than they would if the owner simply takes something "off the shelf" from some other organization and announces the new code.

Fill the information vacuum

Gossip tends to arise in the absence of concrete information. When we don't have the facts, we're tempted to speculate aloud with others – especially if someone is fired.

If a terminated employee tells her former co-workers she was fired "out of the blue," their unspoken question is, "Could that happen to me?" Sometimes managers add fuel to the fire by responding to questions with, "I can't talk about it." This makes it seem that they have something to hide, and rumours run rampant.

You can respect the privacy of terminated employees by making general yet truthful statements, without going into detail. For example, "We made every effort to work with her. We really hoped we could turn it around, but we couldn't." Or, "We followed our corrective action policy. We went through the verbal and written warnings, the whole process." Not everyone will be satisfied but you can take some of the force out of the rumour mill.

Workplace gossip is not inevitable. By setting a good example, developing clear expectations and providing basic information in times of stress, you can keep gossip from wasting time and harming relationships in your business.


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