How to Stop Employee Gossip in Its Tracks
Co-workers sharing titillating tidbits may waste a few minutes of productivity. No big deal. Unless they are gossiping about YOU, and your leadership team.
As stress rises, workers often begin to share uninformed predictions about leadership’s motives, intentions, or plans. These rumors can become a huge sinkhole of productivity — at the worst possible time. But it does not have to be this way.
You can keep your organization humming and your people working hard, even when the stress level rises. Here’s how:
Don’t shoot the messenger. When you get wind of gossip: Stop. Notice. You just learned something invaluable! Instead of trying to quell the rumor, or punish the one who shared it, recognize it as an important signal for your leadership. Thank them for their candor. If you shoot the messenger, you will be throwing gas on the fire.
Open communication is key. Your people would not have become distracted by negative rumors if they had healthy avenues for getting reliable information. Consider monthly all-hands meetings, where you set aside plenty of time for an “Ask Anything” session. No question is off-limits. If you don’t know or aren’t able to talk about it yet, just tell them so.
Build and rebuild trust. When trust is high, people are willing to speak directly. No back channels are needed. A good place to start is with the book, “The Speed of Trust,” by Steven Covey. He makes a compelling case that trust drives many bottom-line issues. And he suggests simple ways to increase trust on your team, and throughout your organization.
“My door is always open” just won’t cut it. Often our clients tell us “My door is always open” or “My guys can tell me anything.” Just because they CAN tell you anything, doesn't mean they WILL. Rarely, do I find employees willing to tell their boss hard truths, or share their real concerns, until they are asked directly. That's your job. Ask.
Feedback: The real breakfast of champions. Don’t wait until someone sticks their neck out to give you feedback — ask them — “How can I support you better?” Ask again and again and again and again and again. Don’t expect to get candid responses for the first few times. Your people will instead be testing the waters. If you receive the tiny bits of constructive feedback well, eventually they will be willing to share their deeper concerns. If you get defensive or angry — game over.
Employee gossip can be the tip of the iceberg, letting you know larger problems are below the surface. If you can leverage this to your advantage to invoke positive change, you’ll quell the gossip and build a healthier working environment for everyone. Let your employees know you take it as feedback instead of disloyalty, and you’re well on your way to open communication across your organization.