ANALYSIS BY SHILPA KABRA MAHESHWARI

Gossip spreads like wildfire but is not an organisational hazard. Informal communication in an organisation occurs through grapevine or word-of-mouth communication. Grapevine consists of rumours and gossip, and, travels from person to person during breaks, in the lunch hour etc. Often, it travels more quickly than the other channels of communication.

Gossip can range from innocuous, garden-variety conversation to something which is potentially hurtful, warranting intervention from the management. In our case, Prem decided to quit as he felt that there was no way out from the gossip going around him. As the HR Manager, Riya was upset over the situation, since she was on the verge of losing a valuable talent owing to the toxic work environment. The situation confronting Raj is similar to our workplace experiences- we do not like to gossip, but unknowingly, become a part of the gossip chain. Riya, after a detailed discussion with Raj, learnt that workplace gossip can lead to a gradual decline in employee trust and morale, and, the management needs to give it a serious thought.

Uncertainty, assumptions, non-transparency by management, lack of communication, sudden changes, good or bad news pave the way for conversations, chit-chat and gossip. While gossip is inevitable in any workplace, the management can take certain controlling measures.

To Communicate, be transparent: Happenings in the workplace must be regularly communicated to the employees. When employees are made cognisant of the management’s thinking, are a regular part of the meetings, and, experience workplace relieve sessions regularly, the need for gossip subsides. Consistent and authentic communication will not allow speculation and gossip to build up.

Meet with the team:  The management needs to bring up the topic of gossip in a staff meeting to educate employees on the negative consequences. Skip level meetings must be organised to build a bridge from the boss to the worker, and, create a comfortable working environment where everyone feels heard. The flipside to negative gossip is the creation of a culture where people share positive stories about work, customers, and culture.

Support the victim: After getting the facts right, the management should support a healthy work environment to address the issue in a way that reinforces and promotes communicating a positive culture. The topic of gossip may be brought up in a staff meeting to educate the team on its negative consequences without stating names and confidential information.

No gossip policy: Gossip at the workplace must be discouraged by way of bringing in an official policy and including a section against gossip in the company handbook. Gossip is an activity that can drain, distract, and downshift employee job satisfaction at the workplace. Every employee who has been a part of employee gossip will admit that he/she did not like it. To create a more professional workplace, it must be ensured that the employee is fully aware that gossip will not be tolerated in the office, and, such instances could result in severe punishment or even termination.

In the box: Employees are uncomfortable to express themselves. A suggestion or a grievance box can help managers to become aware of the goings on outside closed doors. They can address hidden issues, which when solved at the right time, can cut through the gossip cycle. A company interested in a healthy work environment will value the opportunity.

Make them learn: Gossip is a form of learned incompetence, an acquired skill that produces poor results. Overcoming such an incompetence requires replacing that with skill. Rigorous orientations, regular recall sessions of company policy will help employees understand that the company has zero tolerance towards gossip mongers. It must be ensured that a zero-tolerance policy toward gossip is a part of the induction process and outlined in the company's handbook.

Gossip is not a problem; it is a symptom. The symptom disappears when the critical mass of leaders ceases in enabling it, create trust in healthy communication channels, and invest in building employees’ skills to use them. Gossip will always die when it enters the ear of the wise. To be a fool or wise is completely our choice!

Shilpa Kabra Maheshwari is Vice President & Head- Human Resources, National Engineering Industries Limited. She has nineteen years of extensive experience with a wide exposure to various facets of HR and has also authored a book on the subject. She has previously worked with Jindal Stainless Limited, Gujarat Gas Ltd. (British Gas Plc), Marriot and Grand Hyatt. Shilpa holds an MBA in Human Resources from Faculty of Management Studies, Udaipur.

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