How to Prevent COVID Related Workplace Gossip
Since returning to the workplace, you may notice an uptick of gossip or unprofessional behaviors centering around COVID-19 (discussing coworkers’ medical situations, tattling on others who aren’t wearing face coverings, etc.). What can you do to prevent this from continuing? Office gossip can quickly become harmful to your business and your workers, so it’s best to take a comprehensive approach and respond quickly to complaints. When possible, be proactive. Here are a few recommendations:
Address office gossip in your employee handbook, either by name or by prohibiting any conduct that creates a hostile, offensive, or intimidating work environment. Just make sure your policy is not overly broad or might violate an employee’s rights under section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
Set the tone with management
Discuss the issue of gossip during team meetings and especially with management, who should set the right example for everyone.
Train employees to recognize when they are gossiping and why they shouldn’t gossip in the office. Provide them with ways to remove themselves from a conversation or to direct a conversation back to company-related work. You may want to consider seminars or workshops if the gossip persists.
Create a process
Implement a clear, simple process for employees to inform you when malicious gossip or other harassment has occurred and for you to respond immediately to complaints.
Give employees clear examples of their unacceptable behavior and provide a verbal warning up to termination depending on the severity of the action.
It is also important to take a look at the subject matter of the gossip to determine if a bigger issue is at work. Gossip frequently increases, for example, when a company undergoes a big change and management is shy about the details.
In a case such as this, over-communicating both the good and the bad to employees helps to eliminate the guessing and creative conspiracy theories that employees invent when management has passed on few substantial facts. Do keep in mind that if employees are discussing personal health information, this could violate HIPAA and should be addressed immediately and confidentially.
No employer can eliminate gossip completely, but by taking a comprehensive approach to gossip and to any issues underlying it, you can address the matter before it creates liability, hurts morale, or increases turnover.
Contact us to learn more about Ahola’s HR consulting services or if you have additional HR questions.