The Practice That Can Devastate Businesses
Learning from harsh realities and troubling experiences
Once a month I write “Flash,” an internal inspirational message distributed to our 60 employees across eight locations in Colorado and Texas. Along with essential company information, Flash keeps everyone up-to-date with the goings-on of our company. This month, I am not able to be inspirational with my message. For the first time in our history, we have closed an arm of the business and retracted business functions. We are very experienced in growing our business and opening new locations. We are not good at, or experienced in, closing business functions.
Before coming to our decision, we weighed the information and situation in front of us. The perfect storm of declining volumes, declining reimbursement, Medicaid/Medicare issues, remote staff management, a maxed line of credit and increased pressure from new and numerous competitors ultimately led to the close decision. We should have closed last summer, but we wanted to save the jobs and we were certain we could turn the ship. The ship did not turn, so we decided to relocate our resources from Texas back to Colorado where we thrive. We had the closing planned with a slow wind-down over a 30-day period.
Throughout this experience, we uncovered some significant weaknesses in our organizational culture – the fragility of emotional decision-making and gossip. Both are vexing issues and we’ve decided to tackle them with the spirit of no secrets and transparency. Side-by-side with our staff, we’ve decided to tackle this culture-killer together. It seems that the cracks in one’s foundation become apparent in times of stress. For us, the cracks began to crumble and our top priority was to eliminate gossip and emotional drama from the workplace.
I define gossip as,” telling someone else’s story.” The dictionary defines it as “unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.”
Take a moment and ask yourself if this is something you have done or if you know of colleagues who partake in gossip. If so, now is a golden opportunity to change direction and focus your energies on making your company great, instead of spreading untrue stories about each other or the company at large.
Here’s an easy cheat sheet for recognizing gossip:
- Does the discussion celebrate the failures of others?
- Does the conversation push negativity?
- Would you have the conversation in front of this person's face?
- Are you discussing another employee's work or life (a promotion, demotion, health issue, family conflict)?
- Is this someone else’s story to share (i.e., not your story)?
Gossip is hard to control and manage. It is exhausting and immature. It leads to low productivity, low morale and increased tensions in what should be a mature workplace. People cannot work with confidence when rumors fly and no one knows what is fact or fiction. The fragility of this working environment doesn’t bind us – it divides us. It often leads to employee turnover and large expenses in operational costs, as well as emotional costs.
HOW TO STOP GOSSIP
We have danced around this issue for a long time, trying to avoid confrontation, but not anymore. Here are some tips to employ for grabbing the gossip bull by the horn:
- Zero-tolerance policies on workplace gossip.
- Role modeling. Ensure key employees are modeling the behavior you want.
- Establish a hotline. Let it be known who is a perpetuator. Tell the leadership and leadership will take action.
- Confront gossip. Address the gossiping employee(s) one-on-one and illustrate how their behavior impedes productivity.
- Team meetings. Bring up the topic of gossip in your huddles. Call it out in examples (no naming names in this setting).
- Positivity. Respond to gossiping with the flipside – positive aspects about that person or the situation.
- Ignore the gossiper. If no one listens, the big bad “gossipmonger” has no audience.
- Keep your private life private. Don't bring personal information or personal drama to work. You interviewed for a job and the expectation is that you come to do that job. You were not interviewed about your personal life and whether that would come with you to work.
We ask every employee now to think back to their first day and remember why they joined us in the first place. We need them, we want them and the whole team to thrive together in a culture we are all proud to protect.