Managing, preventing rumours in the workplace

Guest Column: Emmanuel Zvada

Rumours are so much common at workplaces. If you have not been a victim of one, you may have participated in it. In fact, the issue of rumours at workplaces is a growing problem that affects almost everyone there. Whether the rumours are about management or other employees, they can spread quickly and affect the organisation mostly negatively, hence it is necessary to deal with rumours in the workplace whenever they occur.

There are many explanations of why employees spread rumours. These may include the feeling for revenge and resentment, among others. We love to talk about each other, and the information we circulate has profound consequences on how people are judged, especially at work. Gossip can unfairly stain a person’s reputation; it often exists as a bundle of half-truths and incomplete stories, and as a result these false rumours can wreak havoc on other people’s reputations.

What gossip does at the workplace

The main concern with negative gossip is that it hurts productivity in the workplace. It also leads to low morale because employees may start distrusting each other. You will begin to notice that some of your best employees may start job-hunting and you may even have liability issues when your employees begin deeming the workplace unsafe. Rumours can kill morale and disrupt productivity. Management who favour a healthy work environment should address this negative trend at workplace. Rumours and gossiping can take a toll at the organisation’s reputation, decrease morale or damage productivity.

Employers are aware of who they are and it is obvious that those disgruntled by something may continue to hold grudges against their bosses or workmates. The same disgruntled workers may also go on a rumour-mongering spree, sometimes affecting productivity. They may also find it easy to even badmouth management for decisions taken by them. While we may not be able to end employee gossip altogether, we can take steps to curtail the practice before it damages relationships among employees or disrupt the workplace.

Learn how to change the subject of your conversation

One of the ways to avoid gossiping is to learn how to change the subject of your conversation. When you have decided you do not like the topic of the conversation you are having or you sense that the person you are talking with is uncomfortable, there are a number of ways you can steer the conversation in a new direction. One simple way is to ask a question or pass a comment during the conversation. The one who asks the question will be in control of the conversation because people will have to answer him/her. If they do not, they will just feel like they are the bad ”guys” who are trying to offend others. This means that the next time someone approaches and wants to gossip with you, you will just change the subject so they avoid you in future.

Avoid and ignore the gossipers

It is human nature to want to know more about issues that will be taking place at the workplace, but gossiping is not the way to go. Always remember to remind yourself that you have something more important to do, so you will never want to waste time gossiping about your co-workers. When you are busy or have a lot of work to do, usually you will never have time to gossip. People engage in gossiping when they have enough free time. In fact, when the mind is idle, one nearest thing it does is to start talking negatively about others. Guess what, this is how gossiping usually starts. Once you know the people who always love to talk bad about someone else, just ignore them. Avoid joining them in conversation.

Keep your private life private

Keeping your private life private can help you present a professional image while still enabling yourself to develop and maintain good working relationships.
Allowing your private life to have too big an impact on your work could harm perceptions about you at work and that can also lead to gossiping among listeners.

As an employee, you should maintain certain boundaries; separating issues of the workplace and private matters. Do not entrust personal information to anyone at the workplace. One big shocking issue with gossipers is this: If you find them gossiping about others, you can bet that they could also gossip about you.

You should never tell anyone about your private life otherwise they will spread like a veld fire all around the place.

Address the specific perpetrators

It is important that you engage with the perpetrators if they are either starting or partaking in gossip. You must directly communicate to them that what they are doing hurts the intended target and disregards human decency, especially in a work environment. Your first action should be to stop negative gossiping on a personal level by directly addressing the key gossipers on a one-on-one basis. Do this in a confidential location and not where others can overhear the discussion, such as a conference room and with the door shut. Your goal would be to help the person understand the impact of their behaviour and the consequences of what will happen if their bad behaviour continues.

Open Communication

While some employees simply thrive on gossip and rumour, this could also be an indication of a serious underlying problem.

Supervisors who do not allow for open communication between themselves and their subordinates essentially prevent them from airing their grievances in a private, professional manner. Workers should also be comfortable with approaching their supervisors to complain about co-workers who may be slandering them.

Clear Policies on workplace gossip

Many companies protect their employees from disclosing sensitive information to others.

If, for example, a manager discloses confidential information that leads to workplace gossip about an employee, that manager could face the risk of disciplinary action or even termination of employment. Having a clearly written policy framework at the workplace with regards to gossip or any other form of misbehaviour is essential. First of all, it gives supervisors a clear set of guidelines regarding what constitutes gossip as well as a standard set of consequences. Secondly, employees will be fully aware of the rules concerning this issue, in addition to what can happen if they do not comply.
Encourage positive gossip.

Encourage a positive work environment where people share helpful stories about work and motivate each other so that they reach a common goal. Educating everyone about what is considered rumours and where they can go for help is important for organisations. In addition, it is also important to those who handle workplace rumours to treat all complaints seriously, and deal with them promptly and confidentially.

 Emmanuel Zvada is a human capital consultant and an international recruitment expert. He writes in his personal capacity.

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