How can I address a gossiping employee?

An employee is a gossip and causes contention with colleagues. I have witnessed a shift in my employees’ behaviours, but I don't have first-hand evidence of the employee causing trouble. What can I do to resolve this?

Gossiping can be defined as talking about someone else’s private or personal business, especially when that person is not present. It can be seen as a common everyday occurrence but when gossip occurs in the workplace it can be damaging to the environment and to careers.

Gossiping will have a negative effect in the workplace by affecting the reputation of the gossiper, affecting the quality of work produced due to demoralising or demotivating colleagues, especially the ones that are being gossiped about, and it can create divisions within the organisation.

The main impact gossip has is that it destroys trust. For example, what if the rumour being spread around the office is that a certain person has done a bit of work wrong, would you voluntarily work with this person again? Would you trust them to do their work again? This breakdown of trust due to idle gossip can have consequences such as employees second guessing each other, an increased need to involve seniors in minor disagreements and trivial issues, and will ultimately cause the death of productive and meaningful teamwork.

Employers can take steps to stop the negative impact that gossip and careless talk has on the workplace. These could include:

· Communicating regularly and consistently with all employees. This will reduce the influence and need for gossip as all employees are kept well informed and ‘in the loop’ so there is no gap in information that can be filled with gossip.

· Discouraging gossip in official company policy and make people aware of the consequences.

· Taking complaints from employees seriously. It is easy for workplace ‘gossip’ to stray into realms of bullying, harassment or discrimination and investigation of a complaint will be needed.

· If behaviour warrants disciplinary action, applying this consistently so that a message is sent to staff that their actions have consequences.

· Not getting involved in gossip as an employer. Set by example what you expect of employees and showing gossip will not be tolerated by you personally lays down a clear guideline for your delegates.

Careless talk can have a costly impact for employers as they may now be liable for any abusive or ill-judged remarks that some people consider to be comedy ‘banter’. Employers need to make sure that careless talk does not cross the line between ‘friendly banter’ and harassment and they need to provide employees with adequate protection and enforcement through reasonable punishments.

Alan Price is employment law director of Peninsula.

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