Ah yes, the good old gossip mill...also known as the grapevine, or the bane of management's existence!
It is where unsubstantiated rumours are accepted as truth and spread as fact.
It has led to more workplace conflict, employee turnover, and worker-based litigation than perhaps any other factor.
Many publicly condemn it....yet privately revel in its intrigue.....We all know it's evils, yet few act to vanquish it...but vanquish it we must!
WHAT IS "GOSSIP"?
Unfortunately, gossip (or the rumour mill) is all too common in many workplaces; the problem is how it affects individual workers and their morale.
Saying things like, “did you hear about…” or “I understand that…” are not really the issue. We need to ascertain what is true and relevant to the workplace or what is just rumour or general talk that is damaging to a person's reputation.
It is critical to understand that office gossip is indeed a form of workplace harassment.
Harassment, in many jurisdictions, is defined as “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”
So, if the person being targeted by the gossip, or any witnesses, feel that the comment or the conduct is harassing or threatening in nature then they need to bring that to the attention of the employer.
That employer is then both accountable and responsible for ensuring that the behaviour stops.
WHAT IS A MANAGER'S RESPONSIBILITY?
It is for this reason that it is so important that management know and understand that they have obligations under the law.
Try these words when approaching a manager:
“I am really concerned about the type of gossip that seems to be happening in our workplace. I have already mentioned it to the supervisors but they seem to be part of it. I really like working here but I believe the behaviour could be violating workplace harassment laws and that kind of behaviour is not acceptable anymore.”
Sometimes employers put up with behaviour because they think it is harmless and when it is brought to their attention (in the proper manner) that it is harmful, most will do something about it.
IS MANAGEMENT PERPETUATING THE GOSSIP?
However, it can become more complicated when supervisors or management are the ones perpetuating the gossip.
This tends to be the case in organizations where supervisors and managers were once (and perhaps quite recently) non-management workers who, since becoming "management" have maintained strong relationships with their old colleagues.
In these situations, it is critical that HR or senior management carefully explain to any supervisor spreading gossip that they will be held to a higher standard now that they are management.
Also included in this conversation should be clearly stated consequences if the offending supervisor doesn't cease their participation in the rumour mill.
THOSE WHO DISMISS THE HARM OF GOSSIP ARE USUALLY THE ONES SPREADING IT
As adults and professionals, we may think that the comments we make about our co-workers and managers are harmless, but they are not.
Management must make it clear to all employees that harmful, hurtful, or damaging rumours will no longer be brushed off as inconsequential.
If any comments, rumours, or gossip about any employee are seen or felt by any other person to be harassing, malicious or threatening in any way, the offending employees must be spoken to and possibly disciplined.
As workplace harassment legislation continues to be passed, the discipline will not only come from the employer but it could result in criminal charges.
Regardless of what the policies are in your workplace, always remember the golden rule of "treating others as you would want to be treated".
No one wants to come to work and feel uncomfortable or threatened by others so we must ensure we don’t make others feel that way.