Gossip and employee misconduct have the potential to impact productivity, decrease morale and even create a hostile workplace. Nip behind-the-back conversations and halt the rumor mill by addressing these unprofessional behaviors head-on.
Create Anti-Gossip Policy
Draft a written policy about gossip in the workplace and use it in your employee handbook and new employee orientation. Provide specific examples so there’s no doubt as to what you’re talking about. Explain how gossip hurts an organization, destroys professional relationships and spreads misinformation. Outline how behind-the-back talking will be handled, such as a written warning for a first offense, an official reprimand for a second and a brief suspension for a third. Ask employees to sign a document indicating they have read and understand the policy so you can use it as a reference in the future, if necessary.
Communicate with Employees
Employees may talk behind your back about things they’re concerned about if they don’t feel they’re getting straight answers from you. Create honest and open channels of communication and share details about the business so there’s nothing for staffers to guess about or discuss in covert ways. This is especially vital if there’s a legitimate issue being talked about, like the potential for layoffs, the loss of a major client or a relocation. Give employees information they need to know, even if you don’t have all the details yourself, just to ensure them you’re not hiding anything. For example, “You may have heard we’re losing the ABC Company account. While it’s true that they’re going through some internal changes, we’re working closely with them to manage their accounting needs now and for the future. I’ll update you when I know more.”
Address Problems Early
If you learn staffers are talking behind your back, nip the behavior in the bud before it gets out of hand or becomes commonly-accepted practice. Go directly to the offenders and confront the behavior in a professional manner in a private setting. For example, “Susan, I’ve heard from several of your colleagues that you’ve been questioning my decision to implement a performance-based bonus structure. Is there something you’d like to ask me directly?” Give the staffer time to respond and conclude your conversation with a reference to your stated policy guidelines. “I’m glad we had the opportunity to discuss this in-person. As you’ll see in this paragraph of the employee handbook, workplace gossip is prohibited, and this discussion will serve as your first official warning.”
Model Expected Behavior
If you don’t want staffers talking behind your back, don’t get caught exhibiting the same behavior yourself. Avoid gossiping, don’t speculate or spread rumors, and if you catch yourself, stop the behavior and use yourself as an example of how not to behave. Also watch your personal behaviors and interactions, conduct yourself in a professional and ethical manner and don’t give employees anything to gossip about.
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.