Cost of office gossip and job jealousy | Sunday Observer

Cost of office gossip and job jealousy

19 September, 2021

With the overwhelming response received for last Sunday’s Biz Talk under the topic “Bad Leaders promote gossip at the expense of profits”, I did a follow up article on the need to really assess the cost of office gossip and take steps to eliminate it for profits.

Most people who gave feedback said that it’s common and they have either been victimised directly or they are aware of the huge financial loss incurred as a result. The majority believed that most Sri-Lankan business leaders have this weakness. Serious repercussions including total company bankruptcy have been cited as feedback in my social media.  

“Say the right thing at the right time when the right people are present with the pure intention of sustaining or growing business value through people.”  This statement connotes that it has to be factors affecting the business and not directed at people and it’s openly discussed for the people to take notice of and decide on the timely action.

Here are a few examples of the cost of workplace gossip. Gossip conversations can grow like wildfire and may even result in an employee being disgruntled and simply marking time without making any positive contribution in protest or to an employee leaving the job.

It’s generally the good, no nonsense performers, who would leave an organisation. Most leaders have no sense as to how this correlates to business results. It creates an environment in which the poor and incapable employees would find refuge. Such employees cannot survive in an environment where performance goals are well set, measurement criteria is scientific, policies and value violations are not tolerated. Divisiveness grows among employees as people may “take sides”.

Morale of the good performers would be eroded and they will not give out their best beyond that. Expected synergies through collective decision making and cross functional collaboration on execution for org-wide results will only be a dream. 

Characteristics of gossipers

Gossip mongers stir up anytime with anyone to get some importance, seek attention and be liked by others. They play a good role of being mediator between two groups and being ‘highly informative’. The gossip mongers are in a different league altogether. They can’t stand good performers who are admired by leaders. They envy others and rally people around their view to garner support. The level at which they gossip provokes people and is unpleasant. Their souls main existence depends on being ‘Untrustworthy’.

They are everywhere or will come from anywhere like a swarm of ants on a random sugar block. No matter how much you want to run away from them, you will be chased by them using their charm and personal connections. But running away does not solve this problem. You need to have the backbone to tell things off the very first time so you wouldn’t help breed that culture. 

Gossip listeners are bigger culprits

Gossip doesn’t work without a willing listener, so agreeing to listen is really as contributory as speaking it. Team members who refuse to listen will kill gossiping as effectively as no speakers. The authors agree with me in observing that candor and authentic expression of feelings and facts are more effective in communication and maintaining the health of the organisation.

The only way to really clean up gossiping is to reveal the gossiper and the listener to each other, to the person about whom they have been gossiping, and to clearly delineate the relevant business facts from the ‘stories’. People who refuse to change need to be removed from the team before they destroy the entire team and business.

Such leaders are half breed leaders, lack experience and confidence. They are vague in their reading of issues and feel insecure. They are neither analytical nor logical. They try to paint a picture that ‘ I know what is happening’ and that’s their only survival. As yourself “Does gossiping honour my own personal values?”. 

As a business leader, you want your employees to be as self-sufficient as possible. After all, you’re their supervisor or manager – not their mother or father. Keep in mind that reacting to every worker complaint may actually heighten the drama and make the situation worse. Doing so could even cause some employees to think you’re playing favorites. 

The truth in HR

The truth is, in Human Resources, there is no such thing as “talking off of the record.” We may feel, as leaders, that we have some element of trust which is good but only when it’s used for positive intentions. “Off the record” insinuates a negative connotation to me; it screams “gossip is coming; will you engage in this conversation with me? Much is to be gained by turning down the opportunity to gossip while at work–and it’s not as hard as you might think. With conscious effort and conviction, you can do your part to derail the harmful effects of destructive gossip and keep the work environment healthy and happy for all.

Nip it in the bud 

Unfortunately, some situations won’t work themselves out on their own and you’ll be forced to step in. If ignored, employee disputes can infect the entire workplace and eventually taint the reputation of your company. Other employees may find themselves unintentionally drawn into the conflict. This “employee sideshow” can further derail productivity.

Get to the root of the problem and stop the landslide before it starts. Make sure the message is clear that all employees, regardless of position and tenure, will be held accountable for their behaviour. Let them know that if established standards aren’t met, it could lead to disciplinary action.

Have clear performance goals and measurement criteria and make them transparent. Incorporate peer and supervisor feedback into the measurement criteria. Agree on a set of organisational values and make them live within the organisation.

Cost of gossiping and job jealousy cannot be recovered from the customers. Do an audit – go down the memory lane and capture the situations where gossip did cost the company money in terms of waste of time and negative impact of collective decision making and execution at the right speed.

You can never bring the hearts and minds together of all people to work as siblings but you can take steps to minimise significant business value loss as a result.