Managing Gossip for Senior Management
August 17, 2011 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Any good books out there on handling employee gossip, from a managerial perspective?

My boss's boss is justifiably frustrated with the level of gossip and water-cooler nonsense in our company. I can see on a daily basis really great reasons for him to want something concise and action-oriented on the topic (he is absolutely that kind of manager.) Especially because the gossipers like to think of me as someone nice and friendly that they can complain to, and I'm quite averse to confrontations of the "please go away and let me do my own work now" variety.

The trouble is, he wants me to buy him a 22-page, $99 (not a typo) "executive report" from a company that never answers their phone and doesn't reply to emails (I've called multiple times since the email I sent two weeks ago and I'm about ready to give up.) Before I walk into his office and tell him that he'll have to pull out his American Express and pony up the money on his own, trust that it'll work, and wait a week for reimbursement (I can't set up a purchase order or use company funds for this without either their tax ID number or a receipt from him) I was hoping MetaFilter had suggestions.

It also really annoys me that this thing costs so much and the whole situation is so very MLM/"exploiting harried people with expense accounts" looking. $4.50 per page??? Seriously???

I've already checked with our corporate HR/training group and the EAP office and all they could suggest was that he attend an 8-hour training session on unhealthy workplace attitudes (they're eagerly awaiting word of my magically awesome better solution, and did offer me the chance to hunt through our unindexed library of several thousand licensed classes to see if there might be something useful out there.)

The key thing is that it has to be easily digestible, oriented toward management, and appeal to the sorts of folks who would like an Executive Action Report. I've thought semi-seriously about drafting one for him using my own research, but that's enough outside of my job description to give me real pause before suggesting it. Having said that, I am keeping my eye out for good AskMes on the issue, just in case.

I have decided, after due consideration, not to directly link the report he wants me to buy. But if you Google "managing gossip," I think you'll find the one I'm talking about. And if you do, and you've used it, and it's awesome and unbelievable and totally worth $99, please feel free to tell me. I couldn't find a single human being who wasn't paid by this company or quoted by them on the site (or one of its many, many mirrors using different corporate identities and phone numbers) who'd vouch for it or even admit to having seen it, ever.

(Asking anonymously on the off chance that my supervisor finds out I did this on my own time, which is technically forbidden for lots of good reasons, just as accessing MetaFilter from work is also forbidden; the corporate world is neither forgiving nor understanding of such dilemmas.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I recommend Crucial Conversations. I thought it sucked, but it sounds like your boss will like it.

I do notice that the PBP guide is mentioned in this list of recommended resources from someone who is apparently a legitimate source, along with many other resources.
posted by michaelh at 8:22 AM on August 17, 2011

Leadership and Self-Deception has some interesting insights, although it assumes that the manager is prepared to take some personal responsibility.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:05 AM on August 17, 2011

Have you looked at the Harvard Business Review website?

I'm of the minority opinion that gossip at work is not a bad thing (I notice that the first link of the HBR search also is of that opinion).

I'm not sure why your boss is so irritated by this? Does he think the complaints aren't valid? What is his issue with gossip? I worked for someone who didn't get people and how relationships work, and I thought it was actually very naive to assume that people wouldn't talk and would passively wait around for news to trickle down to them. If you don't proactively communicate with your employees in a very timely manner, they will gossip so they know what's going on.

Honestly, people just like to gossip and complain. Especially in this economy when everyone feels stuck and like their boss doesn't value them because there are 10 people banging down the door for a job - any job. The "you're lucky to have a job" mindset leads to treating people pretty poorly. And that leads to an "us vs them" mentality, and gossip and complaining.

Seriously. I worked in a place that was as close to utopia as any corporate environment can be, and we all complained endlessly. It seems ridiculous now. I realized that part of it was a comfort with the organization - no one ever got in trouble for complaining. And it was like a family, so hence the gossip. Both of those things are actually kind of great, if you think about it. Employees felt comfortable and did not fear the bosses, and employees liked each other and liked to know what was going on.

Usually Sr. management would get annoyed at all of the water cooler complaining, of course. Being up front with information and possible underlying issues and asking for solutions seems like a good way to deal with it. Honesty from Sr. Management is always appreciated. I think one of our managers basically told everyone they were empowered to make things better and should think about how to do it. It was semi-effective.
posted by rainydayfilms at 10:24 AM on August 17, 2011

Here's a quote from the article "It's Not 'Unprofessional' to Gossip at Work":

The challenge: Gossip often consists of hearsay, half-truths, and innuendo, and can absorb large amounts of your staff’s time. Can it really be valuable? Professor Labianca, defend your research.

Labianca: Gossip can be very helpful to people in organizations, especially when the flow of information from the top gets choked off, as often happens when companies are in crisis or undergoing change. If a few people know what’s really going on, gossip becomes the means of spreading that information to everyone else. What’s more, research shows that gossip often reduces individuals’ anxiety and helps them cope with uncertainty.

posted by rainydayfilms at 10:28 AM on August 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just a story:

I was in a meeting a few months ago where a higher-up announced someone was being fired. He talked about it for a solid five minutes, bad-mouthing the person. He mentioned everything but NOT THE NAME OF THE PERSON. He concluded the meeting with, "let's not have a lot of gossip about this in the halls."

It was all I could do to not bust out laughing. You're telling people one of their friends and co-workers got fired, and then expecting them not to speculate about who it is or who's next? Ridiculous. In situations like that, those of us at the bottom of the totem pole feel completely helpless. Trying to find out what's going on is the only tiny bit of power we possess.

If you don't want gossip, be upfront with people.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:56 AM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also: it's an escape valve. Some bosses have trouble accepting that their employees may not always like them, or the decisions they make. Unless you want to run a total dictatorship, you just have to accept that as the price of leadership. People are going to dislike you sometimes, and they're going to talk about it.

Letting people blow off a little steam is very much to your advantage, if you want to keep them working and reasonably content.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:06 AM on August 17, 2011

Agree with drjimmy11. If you want to reduce gossip you have to be out front and up front with your messaging / communication. You have to explain why you made certain decisions and the ramifications of taking alternate paths. No one may say "Why didn't you consider doing X", but you can be smart enough to answer that question without being prompted. That's really it. Sometimes you can't be upfront and that's ok, but you will have to accept that people have the ability to speculate and imagine lots of possibilities which they enjoy sharing with the co-workers.

A little bit of gossip can be healthy, not because of the messages that are exchanged, but because of the bonds it can form with people.
posted by jasondigitized at 6:24 AM on August 18, 2011

I have no experience with the document you are looking at but this really doesn't seem like it should be such a huge deal. Someone at the top needs to make a no-gossip policy, communicate it and be done with it. I don't agree with a lot of what Dave Ramsey says but his no-gossip policy at his company makes sense. He says that if you have trouble with someone then you need to talk to your boss (or if it is your direct report then you need to deal with that). Because by gossiping you can't really help the situation. So the key is to make it clear that people do need to bring their problems up with their bosses - you can't just say "no gossiping" and leave it at that. People need to know that things can improve if they bring the matter to someone's attention. But just standing around talking about it is usually not going to fix anything.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:58 AM on August 18, 2011

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