Gossip in the Workplace: Should We Have a Zero-Tolerance Policy?

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“Of course we don’t tolerate gossip.” Is that what your company would tell me? If you have people working for you, you probably have gossip, at least in small degrees. Some companies, knowing how damaging gossip can be, decide to have a “zero-tolerance” policy about it. In other words, you get caught gossiping, you are out. For others, it leads to disciplinary action. Others still turn a blind eye.

A zero-tolerance policy has its pros and cons, so when you are considering how to handle gossip in your workplace, keep in mind the following.

Reasons to have a Zero Tolerance Policy

It sets a company-wide standard, especially if enforced. Your team will soon realize that they will be held to a high standard of contact and outsiders will tend to respect that.

It protects teammates. If gossip begins, teammates feel empowered to use the policy to protect themselves from getting sucked into a damaging conversation.

It uplifts the idea of team. If there is no tolerance for tearing down the team, you can build a sense of loyalty and pride.

It retrains individuals. When teammates know they can’t gossip to each other, and must instead go through proper channels (make sure such paths are easy to follow!) teammates will learn over time how to handle difficulties.

It will clean out your staff. Either the violators will have to be let go, or they will quit. Newcomers will know the expectations from the beginning.

[callout]A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much. [biblegateway passage=”Proverbs 20:19″] NIV [/callout]

Reasons not to have a Zero Tolerance Policy

It is difficult to define. Gossip takes different forms and defining it can be muddy. For example, if an employee gets advice from a co-worker about handling another difficult relationship, is that considered gossip because some negative things were said about another?

It can be a challenge to enforce. If you can’t make a firm definition of gossip, you’ll have a hard time enforcing the “You’re out” rule on a case-by-case basis and still seeming fair to all employees.

It may instill unhealthy fear. For some personalities, this type of policy will only make them suppress legitimate thoughts and problems that should be dealt with for fear that they will be considered gossips.

It can lead to a false sense of teamwork. Your teammates may simply smile and keep their mouth shut and put on a false front of teamwork to avoid any conflict that may endanger their jobs.

It can be unrealistic. If you have a zero tolerance for gossip, what other behaviors do you also not tolerate? Could gossip be a cause for dismissal while laziness is only a cause for disciplinary action? Both can affect the team.

Is there a middle ground?

It depends. Every company culture is different and made up of complex factors. Ask yourself some of these questions as you think about what policy is best for your situation:

  • What is the current temperature of our team?
  • Do we deal with gossip on a regular basis already?
  • Has gossip caused up problems with our clients?
  • Are most of our team members dedicated and people of high character who make only occasional mistakes?
  • Do our teammates already feel loyal to each other and the company?
  • Do we communicate well with our team? (Communication is one key to fighting gossip in the first place.)
  • Are leaders a good example of how we feel about gossip?
  • Could we lose otherwise good people for one or two incidences of unwise gossip?
  • Would this standard instill fear, or inspire conviction, in our team?

In the end, each organization needs to establish the healthiest policy for their workplace. Gossip needs to be dealt with…make sure you deal with it in an effective way for your situation.

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