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COMPANY CULTURE

3 Ways to Make Office Gossip Work for You

You can't stop gossip. But you can discourage the bad stuff and learn to love the rest.
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There is no office without gossip. Some organizations give in to it and let it run rampant. Laurus Technical is attempting to end all gossip. The school's policy prohibited employees from "making negative or disparaging comments or criticisms about anyone; creating and sharing or repeating a rumor about about another person; and discussing work issues or terms of employment with other employees."

What was it thinking?

People talking to one another about the things they care about provides a major--if not the major--motivation for people to come to work. In all honesty, few people are loyal to companies. They are loyal to one another. Any business that tries to impede, manage, or control social connectedness is doomed to failure. Or, if it succeeds, it will have eroded the social capital on which all organizations depend.

So what can you do about gossip?

1. Embrace it.

Social connectedness is highly motivating. If the people in your company know, like, and support one another, information travels more freely, work gets done faster, and everyone learns more. This is infinitely more valuable than the harm done by occasional tittle-tattle. The global structural engineering firm Arup boasts that there is no question across the 40-plus countries in which it operates that cannot be answered within 24 hours. This is possible because people know one another and share; it's a business asset to be cherished.

2. Be open.

Of course people are going to talk about terms and conditions of their work. Make sure you have nothing to hide. If information is open and available, there will be less need for whispers and gossip. Publicly post pay bands, open the application process for any new role, and make it easy to move around the company. This will ensure correct information is flowing and impede malice and misunderstanding. The best counter to gossip is truth.

3. Handle grievances.

In the Laurus case, an employee had been fired for discussing her Equal Opportunity Commission complaint alleging sexual harassment and manager retaliation. Odds are that this complaint wouldn't have been worth gossiping about if it had been handled quickly and openly. People often gossip when existing communication channels don't function well. So if you hear a lot of worrying gossip--not just harmless chitchat--examine your internal processes carefully. They are a lot easier to change than human nature.

Last updated: May 28, 2014

MARGARET HEFFERNAN

Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur and author. She has been chief executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation. In 2014, she published her fourth book, A Bigger Prize: How We Can Do Better Than the Competition.




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