Watercooler Convos

Chances are that most of your employees have been guilty of participating in workplace gossip at some point in their career.  Even if they haven’t started a rumor, repeating gossip or simply engaging in an inappropriate conversation can be equally as damaging.  As a manager, it is your job to shut down negative gossip and prevent it from becoming a disruption in the workplace.  The following steps should be taken into consideration to ensure that the notorious water cooler conversations stay positive.

Deal with Gossip Immediately: Gossip of any kind should be addressed as soon as it is brought to your attention; don’t wait for it to gain momentum and spread further.  Allowing gossip to spread causes a decline in morale and camaraderie among coworkers, which will ultimately lead to decreased productivity.  This decrease in productivity is due to lack of teamwork and employees focusing on inappropriate conversations.  Unaddressed gossip can lead to further issues such as harassment complaints; for that reason, it is in your best interest to immediately take action.

Go to the Source: In order to address a rumor, you first need to find the source.  Although finding the source may take some investigative skills, it is necessary that you directly address the person or people responsible so that they are held accountable and understand the consequences of spreading negative gossip.  Make sure that you keep your conversations private to avoid further disruption, and take the time to discuss why they felt compelled to spread sensitive information about a coworker.  Did they have a legitimate or work related concern, or do they have an issue with the person they were talking about?  Knowing their reason can help you resolve the issue behind the gossip.  Once you understand their reasoning and have resolved the issue, make sure that they understand that gossiping will not be tolerated and if they have concerns they need to talk to a manager or human resources.

How to Handle Work Related vs Non-Work Related Gossip

Work Related:

Gossip is especially damaging to an individual when it is work related.  Simply put, it can ruin careers and professional reputations.  Once you are aware of a rumor, follow due diligence and determine if it is legitimate and if it violates any company policies.  If the gossip carries any weight and violates your company’s policies, you will want to get human resources involved to help you complete a thorough investigation.  If the gossip is simply a rumor without any validity, a conversation needs to take place with the employee responsible.

Non-Work Related:

Even when the gossip is not work related, it still has a negative impact on the company.  Distracted employees who do not trust one another are highly unlikely to complete their tasks efficiently as a team.  In the event that a non-work related rumor is circulating, it is not necessary to investigate beyond finding who started the rumor and why; however, a private conversation with the employee who started the rumor is necessary to make sure that they do not continue to instigate and spread gossip.

Encourage Positive Gossip:  Make sure that your employees understand that negative gossip in the workplace is unacceptable, but they can always participate in positive gossip.  Demonstrate positive gossip by highlighting the accomplishments of individuals on your team at meetings, and encourage others to do the same.  By sharing these accomplishments in a public forum, you are demonstrating the appropriate way to discuss others in the workplace.