Nothing can destroy a team faster than toxic gossip.
Left unchecked, gossip can kill productivity, diminish trust, and heighten fear. Otherwise good employees can quickly turn into petty junior high students!
As a manager, you play an important role in managing the situation. If your team is battling the plague of gossip, consider these options for regaining control.
Don’t Get Involved
Yes, you have the option to simply ignore it. Depending on how rampant and blatant the issue is, it might not be worth your attention. Interpersonal conflicts, shifting alliances and side discussions are all par for the course in any group dynamic.
For the most part, if these things are minor and relatively unobtrusive, you can trust that your employees are adults and they can navigate the issue on their own.
This, of course, isn’t always the case. But, as a manager, you can’t allow minor disturbances amongst the team to demand more attention than they realistically warrant. What qualifies as “minor” is based on your judgement. Still, if the gossip is happening right in front of you, address it in the moment to set clear boundaries.
Some of the most destructive gossip in the workplace isn’t directly about people. Rather, it’s about the organization. Speculation regarding impending layoffs, for example, can spread like wildfire and cause total destruction in its path. Morale suffers and, if not properly addressed, strong performers can leave simply to avoid the uncertainty.
As a leader in the organization, it’s important that you address these kinds of rumors head on and as transparently as possible. While there may be information you can’t share with your team, you can still help ease their fears by listening to the concerns and offering whatever details you can. Ignoring gossip of this nature will usually only add fuel to the fire.
Mediate When Needed
If and when gossip rises to unacceptable levels, as a manager, you have a responsibility to get involved. If staff members are specifically asking for your help or showing through their actions that they aren’t capable of dealing with it on their own, you need to intervene.
The best approach is to speak directly with the individuals involved about the specific, current situation—privately and one-on-one at first. Many managers prefer a more “hands off” approach and will simply address the entire team, speaking in vague generalities. This tends to be less effective and can actually escalate the issue as offending parties try to point blame at others and avoid evaluating their own actions.
Remember, your job is to help the perpetrator(s) understand how destructive the behavior is to the team’s goals, re-establish workplace behavior expectations, and hold all parties accountable.
Don’t Engage in It Yourself
Ultimately, the manager is responsible for setting the tone on his or her team. Your actions demonstrate what is acceptable. Managers who engage in gossip with their team (or in front of their team) signal that the behavior is okay. As a leader, you should always hold yourself to a higher standard.
While this topic and the behavior may seem juvenile, gossip is simply a part of the workplace. It’s a natural way that humans bond in social groups. But it can quickly turn a team toxic. As a manager, you should keep a watchful eye on the dynamics and use your position to help encourage a respectful, productive environment for all.