Gossip, in general, is a terrible thing. It ruins relationships, friendships, and projects large and small. It hurts people deeply, and it can forge boundaries between people so intense that there is no hope for repair. Gossip in the workplace is a particular problem. In a busy working environment, you can have a solid mixture of tension, stress, and various personalities all thrown in together. The assortment can breed great success, but it can also take a turn for the worse. Office gossip can ruin an otherwise excellent community.
Take steps to end gossip in the workplace before it affects relationships and projects. Here are some steps you can take to hinder the terrible habit in your office.
The first step toward stopping office gossip is prevention. Try to encourage employees to genuinely get to know one another from the start. Assuming that your company is not new and that you’ve had new hires come in gradually over an extended period, this means creating regular social events where people mix and mingle. You don’t need to make it a large weekend party. In fact, sometimes loud parties or events are not ideal for people to get to know one another. Rather, host friendly, casual events, such as potlucks or movie nights. Encourage open conversation about meaningful topics.
Another way of keeping people away from gossiping in the workplace, and to instead sincerely open up and form meaningful bonds, is by playing games at work, such as fun competitions. If games are not your company’s style, then create clubs, such as walking groups, where people can meet in the mornings to go for treks together. Alternatively, create a healthy lunch club. Encouraging your team to share in positive experiences and truly get to know one another is a good first step in creating a great community.
It is true that some people are absolutely addicted to gossip. They love hearing it, knowing it, and spreading it. But it’s also true that most people don’t actually like or enjoy gossiping. Rather, they fall into the trap of participating in this horrid activity as a way to express or release tension. Generally, happy, relaxed people find better things to do, fun, healthy things, instead of being cruel to others. Therefore, try to relieve stress in the workplace.
If the company you manage deals in high-stakes transactions or is particularly competitive, (for example, it’s commission-driven or manages high-profile clients), then you cannot eradicate stress completely. However, you can still lighten the mood. Here are some things you can do to relieve your employees’ stress and help them avoid the tendency to spread bad news.
Offer flexible work locations
Allow your employees to work outside of their cubicle sometimes. There are a variety of options for this. Naturally, you can let them work from home some, which enables them to sleep in slightly and get more rest since they will not need to commute that day. It also removes some of the natural stress that comes with dealing with the same personalities day in and day out.
In fact, some employees find that their productivity rises when they can work in the peace and quiet of their own home. There are other perks too. Employees do not have to worry about packing a lunch the night before or picking up their dry cleaning for the day. A once per week work-from-home day can help recharge people, and it can be especially handy midweek, when tension starts to build. But if arranging this is too complicated for your company, you can still play with different versions of this concept.
For example, you can arrange different workstations in your office, with comfy couches or new desks, and you can tell your employees that if they need a break from the cubicle, they are welcome to take their laptop elsewhere. You can also allow afternoons when they take their work out of the office to a local place for a cup of coffee while getting an hour’s work done. It might seem a little silly at first to willingly take your employees out of the office, but an occasional change of scenery is stress-busting for some people. The less stress, the more productive people are, and the chances that they will take part in office gossip go down.
Develop diverse work hours
Nowadays, it is increasingly common to allow employees varying hours for their work. It’s for good reason. Some people truly do work better in the early morning. Likewise, others thrive at nighttime and want to sleep through the morning. Allow your employees some flex hours, if you can. This means that sleepy-eyed workers get to sleep in once or twice a week, as long as they agree to work later in the evening. By allowing employees more control over their schedules, they can opt to take much-needed space from irksome colleagues, or simply rest up so that they feel more positive and reinvigorated when they return.
Enforce mandatory breaks
In industries that are particularly stressful, it’s not uncommon to find hard-working bees who can’t seem to take a break. Likewise, there are social animals too, those workers who really enjoy a good chit-chat by the water cooler. In time, these groups can collide and snicker behind each other’s backs, turning nasty when goals aren’t met. This could have nothing to do with anyone in particular. It can, however, mean that everyone needs to chill out and rest up. If you make taking a break mandatory, there is less competition and comparison, and the hard workers won’t feel guilty being pulled away from their computer screens.
Try to make those breaks long enough that people feel genuinely rejuvenated. A one hour or a 1.5-hour lunch break is a luxurious amount of time during which people can enjoy themselves at a local restaurant, meet a friend, or go to the gym. No matter how stressful the morning may have been, people are bound to return to the drawing board refreshed and content to work with almost anyone.
Give food and drink
Nourishing your employees is just another way of treating them well. Help them cope with stress by providing a ready supply of healthy and filling foods. Supply fruits, vegetables, bottled water, and a variety of decaf teas. If people are coffee junkies, consider investing in a machine that makes lattes and other coffee drinks. While you can’t tell employees what to do, you can set the standard with a healthy office environment that doesn’t encourage smoking or fast food. Encourage your employees to eat well and take a vested interest in their health.
In addition to caring for your employees with food and drink, consider the temperature of the office. Is it warm enough? Is it too hot? If you see your employees wearing multiple sweaters during the day, that’s a hint to consider raising the temperature in the office, so they don’t freeze at their desks. Likewise, make sure lights aren’t too bright. Research shows that some overhead lights are stress-inducing. Keep lights low so that people feel relaxed. Offer daily stretching or relaxation classes if you can.
If you’ve done your best to select positive, intelligent employees, you’ve attempted to create a meaningful community, and you’ve been flexible and accommodating, but you’re still having a problem with office gossip, you may need to take further action. Even if you suspect that there are only a few people causing the negativity, it’s time to have a talk with each employee privately.
Never name names, but arrange general meetings with every single person, and make it clear to each one that the office is a positive community. Be kind and respectful, and be sure to assure them that everyone is getting the same talk. Hopefully, this will discourage office gossip. If it doesn’t, you may need to take further steps and consider giving official warnings to those you suspect are involved.
Office gossip, like all negativity, is a terrible thing. Workspaces should be places of productivity and teamwork, where diverse personalities mix and benefit from each other’s presences. Try your best to deal with office gossip on a collective level, and hopefully, the calm air aids everyone in minding their own business and enjoying their work in a meaningful community environment.