The reason for my anti-policy stance? I think too many HR professionals avoid creative solutions and wash their hands of a problem by writing another policy. This policy then gets added to the already too long and rarely read employee handbook where it sits dormant until an employee gets sent to the
principals HR office to be scolded.
A few weeks ago, I read an article in BusinessWeek that literally had me shouting profanities at the consultant whose advice to companies was to combat a problem with a policy. The reason I was so fired up was because, in typical policy form, the actual problem wasn't even being solved.
Titled, "Gossip In the Workplace" the author defines gossip NOT as malicious talk about the personal lives of co-workers but as "talk between co-workers, managers, and executives about work-related matters to someone who can't do anything about it". She goes on to call employees who gossip "chickens" and "cowards" and attacks their integrity.
Her solution? Create a "gossip ban"; a "zero tolerance" policy of sorts which requires senior leadership to gather all employees together, stand in front of them and in a stern voice declare, "No more gossip." In a final attempt to sugar coat the policy (and to completely insult the employees) the author suggests we "encourage employees to think of it as a game, with the prize being open communication and a positive work environment".
Unless your employees are in kindergarten, my guess is that this solution isn't going to solve the problem. Here's why:
She defined "gossip" as being between co-workers and "about work-related matters":
If employees are gossiping about work related matters, it doesn't mean they're "cowards" or "chickens". It means they're confused, unsure of something, or scared about how changes are going to impact them. Employees turn to each other (aka gossip) when HR and Senior Leadership haven't done a good job of clearly communicating with employees and/or haven't given them a safe forum to express their concerns.
Rather than suggesting a policy, this consultant should have coached the company on finding new ways to open communication and create feedback loops. They should fire her, hire me, and do some of the following:
- Coach managers on how to solicit feedback from employees.
- Require managers, as part of their performance reviews, to ask employees about their biggest roadblocks. This doesn't mean asking while passing each other on the way to the bathroom. It means scheduling coffee with them, getting out of the office, and really asking them how things are going and what their concerns are.
- Hold managers accountable for removing those roadblocks and escalating issues to Senior Leadership.
- Find creative ways to use the biggest gossipers in the office to your advantage.
- Stop spending so much time behind your expensive desk and spend more time out there communicating with the employees.
- Consider that not all gossip is bad. New research shows that some gossip might actually be good for your employees and your company
If your gossip problem leans more towards being malicious, hurtful, and aimed at attacking the personal lives of your employees, then you'll have to take more immediate measures to stop it. For those of us who just barely made it out of high school alive, we know how this type of gossip can hurt morale, productivity, and engagement, so your best bet is to act quickly to eliminate it. Even in this situation, consider ways that you can focus on "building a culture of respect by having zero tolerance for those who disrespect."
While workplace gossip is bad, creating a deadbeat policy is even worse. What are some of the ways you've been able to work around creating even more policies in your organization?
Thanks to Fistful of Talent / Editor's Note - Marisa Keegan is a Culture Maven (for real, that's her title...) for Rackspace where she works to create