The office watercooler has become a symbol of workplace gossip, a gathering place that generates rumors and drama. While today's watercooler has largely migrated to instant messages, texts, and social media, the gossip network still exists--and as a human resource professional, it's important to be aware of and mitigate the effects of this negative practice.
The most obvious effect of office gossip is that it decreases productivity. The more time your employees spend talking about each other or the company in general, the less time they spend working. And when gossip creates drama, productivity is impacted even further as employees deal with the fallout.
Office drama occurs in one of two primary ways. One is gossip directed at co-workers, which can spread quickly and negatively affect the person who's the subject of the rumors, as well as those who work closely with him or her. Teamwork suffers, general morale decreases, and management is forced to spend more time dealing with these issues rather than business-related tasks.
Another way office drama occurs is through rumors started and spread about the company. Whether or not the rumors are true, negative news that begins as gossip can easily become office-wide drama that slows work and creates a harmful environment. Some of your employees may even resign as a result of office rumors.
How can HR combat the watercooler culture and keep gossip from damaging your workplace environment? Here's what you can do to stop office drama in its tracks.
More often than not, office gossip is not malicious in intent. People like to talk, and talking about other people is an easy conversation starter. Many of your employees may not know exactly what gossip means, or be aware of the negative impact that office drama can have on not just the subjects of gossip, but the workplace as a whole.
Make it a point to explain to employees what constitutes gossip, and how much harm it can truly have on your workplace. If they understand the potential impact, most people will make an effort to change their ways and stop starting or participating in the spread of office rumors.
When it comes to gossip and drama that revolves around the company, it's usually about what management is--or isn't--doing about a certain issue. As an HR professional, you can help resolve this problem by keeping the lines of communication open.
Any type of speculation can quickly turn into misinformation. When no one is given the real facts, there will always be someone willing to make up information to fill in the gaps--and this false speculation may be taken as truth, especially when it's heard second- or third-hand.
This is why taking the initiative to offer the correct information can stop office drama before it starts, so your employees don't end up interpreting "pending budget cuts" as "everyone is going to be fired next month." In addition to ensuring that employees know what's happening with the company, make sure they feel comfortable asking their supervisors or managers when they suspect there's a problem.
Once your employees are educated on the harmful potential of office drama and aware that the lines of communication are open for them, be sure to address and enforce the issues of gossip and rumors in your office code of conduct and disciplinary policies. Spell out not only what constitutes a violation of your policy, but also the steps that will be taken should an employee be found in violation.
In addition, you should create a separate policy that addresses gossip and rumors on social media or through instant messaging. While your policies shouldn't ban this form of communication altogether, they should prohibit employees from making negative statements about co-workers, customers, competitors, and your company--especially in public channels like Facebook or blogs.
By taking proactive steps to educate your employees on the harms of gossip, communicate company news in a timely manner, and regulate the primary sources of rumors and gossip, you can prevent office drama before it gets started.
Clearpoint is a staffing agency for jobs in information technology, marketing, creative, and other professionals. We do business by building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with our employees and clients.