Want to Meet With Employees About Gossip

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctor about gossip: I am dealing with seven employees. Some seem to love to gossip in and out of the office.

I am dealing with seven employees. Some seem to love to gossip in and out of the office. Three of the employees are dedicated hard workers and value their jobs. These three have come to me with information that they were told about management conversations. Example: Informing another employee about their job being on the line, telling false info. Example: management is screening all phone calls, Unemployment issue Example: informing another employee about another part time employee filing for unemployment and getting denied, not to mention hurtful, mean betrayal of personal health and emotional issues.

This has caused one to leave work for the day and another not wanting to come back. Both make this company work and without these two I would be in a major bind for a period of time.I would like to address to all employees what their actions have caused. By law what can I and can not do or say. I don’t want to fire them, it’s hard times for all, I am one to give second chances.

Signed, Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

While I can understand your desire to give people a second chance, I hope a second chance is all you give them. We hear almost daily from employees who are made miserable by other employees, but the manager keeps giving the problem employees a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance, etc., for years.

There is no legal requirement about what you can say to employees, as long as you do not make abusive remarks based on race, gender, age, religion or ethnicity. It is up to an employer or manager to run the business the right way and that often includes hiring, firing, discipline and counseling. In this case, it means it’s your responsibility to stop what has been going on and stop it completely.

One thing you can do is to tell employees who come to you, to stop listening to the remarks. If they get so upset over it, they shouldn’t encourage it by chatting and gossiping themselves. I know that sounds harsh, but no one holds them hostage to make them listen. You can bet they stand there or sit on the phone and soak it all up without saying, “Don’t even start with that. I don’t want to hear unpleasant things about work. Nothing you’ve ever said has been the truth yet, so just don’t go there.”Instead, they come to you, hoping you’ll say what they don’t want to say.

Now that you know, you have to do something, so for that reason it’s good that you know. But, this would stop in a heartbeat if the three employees who are bothered, would refuse to take part in the negative conversations. OR, offer them this option: The next time the employees start gossiping or saying a rumor, the good employees should ask them to go along with them to meet with you right then, so you can clear up problems. That kind of confrontation will stop it.I know your question was about the employees that start stirring the pot, but I wanted you to think about the responsibility of the other employees as well.

Before you start with a meeting, why not talk to each employee individually? In a team meeting, everyone tends to sit there like zombies and listen without talking. Also, a group warning is not effective, because some will not feel they have done anything wrong and they won’t even think about it after they leave. If you talk to them individually they have no doubt but what they must change their behavior. You’re not obligated to have proof or to word your warning in any specific way.

But, if you’re going to have a meeting, make sure you are clear and certain about how wrong it is for anyone to lie about issues or exaggerate them, just to upset people. Group meetings are not the place to tell people they’ll be fired if the bad behavior continues. So, you’ll have to just focus on appealing to their sense of decency. However, I do think you should say something like, “I want us to find ways to work together and feel good about work, without me having to issue warnings and threats. If I have to do that, I’ll be talking to you individually and there won’t be any doubt about the warning. So, let’s see how we can work this out in a positive way.

It would be a good idea to “talk about talk” as Dr. Gorden often mentions. Set some guidelines for office talk and say that spreading rumors or talking about the medical or personal condition of another employee is not acceptable. Then, ask them, “What do you think would be some good things to keep in mind about our conversations here at work?” Then, move on to conversations away from work. You could say that anyone who gets a call that is disturbing or only about gossip, should have the courage to tell the coworker they don’t like it. Close the meeting with a promise that you will make sure they are treated fairly but they should treat each other fairly, by not saying or doing things that are mean and hurtful. Many employers and employees think there are labor laws about such meetings or about other issues related to an employee, but there are not, as long as you are treating people with civility. Document all that you do by writing a note to yourself or to the person above you.

Best wishes with this. Remember that you are responsible for the workplace environment. So, whatever the problem people do or don’t do, they can say you allowed it. Don’t let them put you in that kind of corner! That’s especially true when you have a couple of people who are on the verge of quitting. Are they less important than the trouble-makers? I doubt it. So, support the right people and don’t support the people who don’t deserve it, just because you’re worried about hard times. If they were really worried, they wouldn’t be doing anything that would put their jobs in jeopardy.My approach to these situations is always a bit tough, because I’ve seen them go on for so long, when they should have been handled. But perhaps you will find some other letters in our archives in which Dr. Gorden suggested other ways of dealing with gossip and rumors.Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.