Layoffs at Rumor Mill

Gossiping in the workplace. A common occurrence, surely. However, employers seem to be at a loss as to how to handle it – or if they should handle it at all.

The April 21 Chicago Tribune RedEye edition ran a story, Boss to Employees: Gossip and You’re Fired, about a Chicago-area public relations firm that completely banned gossiping in the workplace. Their CEO felt gossiping hurt morale and lowered productivity, so much so, that three employees have already been fired since the ban was implemented. Does banning office gossip really work, and are the costs worth it?

Probably not. Although gossip can potentially hurt productivity and morale – or at least intimidate those involved in the rumors, policing it can be a daunting task, something that may not produce the desired results.

Firstly, the time and energy expended trying to police personal behaviors may end up costing the company just that: time and energy. HR managers could be working on more meaningful actions – perhaps to bolster sales, create a stronger web presence for the company or identify networking strategies – instead of trying to weed out gossipy workers.

Secondly, although there are no HR issues in firing an employee for gossiping, or anything for that matter, due to at-will employment in today’s workplace, these types of policies cost the company not only potentially strong workers, but also the time, energy and money to hire replacements. In the example above, three employees were axed for gossipy behavior. Not only have you lost three employees, but you also have to cover the cost of hiring and training three more.

Finally, your employees and co-workers are smart…hopefully, since they work with you. If they want to gossip about another worker, the boss or the temp’s incriminating MySpace page, they will find a way to do so, regardless of company policy. Think coded messages or taps on the floor. Even if it’s not that extreme, once you try to force workers what to talk about in the office, you may be hurting morale already.

The best course may be to promote morale through positive actions, instead of taking things away. The following is a list of ways to keep the office happy:

Socialize with your coworkers. The latest Employee Engagement Index from the Gallup Management Journal found that employees who work with passion and drive innovation are most likely to engage in close personal relationships at work. This does not necessarily mean you need to go out every night with your fellow employees. However, engaging in non-work-related activities and conversation will help establish mutual respect and common bonds.

Check your problems at the door. No one likes to be belittled or yelled at in front of others. Although it may seem like common sense, a 2001 study commissioned by Integra Realty Resources of New York found that 42 percent of respondents witnessed yelling and other forms of verbal abuse in the workplace. If you have a problem with a fellow worker, take time to cool down and then have a constructive conversation with the individual in a private office or conference room. If the conflict has elevated to a point where civil conversation seems impossible, then seek a manager or human resources representative to mediate the interaction.

Keep an open flow of communication. A major cause of resentment may come from workers who feel they are not being heard. Communication is critical to any inter-office relationship, so it is important to establish an open-door policy for workers to air their grievances. Allow employees to submit written suggestions and call a follow-up meeting to discuss any issues.

Bring a piece of home to the office. Maybe you are having trouble motivating yourself to finish that last report in your windowless, white cubical. Since you spend most of your time at the workplace, it is important to feel comfortable. A recent study found that a depersonalized workplace environment was a leading cause of workplace anger. Bring in some posters for your office walls. Put some flowers on your desk or in a common area. Your co-workers will thank you for it.

Learn to deal with people you do not like. Unfortunately, you will meet people within your organization with whom you do not get along. Since you most likely cannot just ignore these people, you will have to minimize any tension that may occur. Keep your interactions brief, to the point and completely professional. If the problem persists, talk to your supervisor to see if you can rearrange your work to avoid this person entirely.

Take a vacation. Sometimes the best remedy for finding happiness at work is to step away from it. Expedia.com’s 2007 Vacation Deprivation Survey found that Americans get 14 paid vacation days a year but only use 11. This is up from 2006 when American’s failed to use 4 vacation days. Although, workers do not always take those trips they have been planning, a few days away from the office could substantially decrease stress levels.

It’s the little things that count. Cleaning up after yourself in the break room, making the next pot of coffee when you take the last cup, and replacing the container on the water cooler when you notice it is empty will go a long way toward creating a civil workplace.

One thought on “Layoffs at Rumor Mill

  1. I think before such a policy could be enforced, one would have to truly define office gossip. What is gossip? One person’s definition might include any non-work-related conversation. Another person might only think negative conversation about someone else is gossip. A company might determine that gossip includes saying anything negative about a company policy.How can you enforce a no-gossip policy, if the term is used so differently by different constituents?

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