[Two Cents] Did gossip kill the monger?

Kelvin Ong gets inside the dangerous world of workplace politics.

“Loose lips sink ships”, the popular saying goes. 

Nowhere do these words hold more water than at the workplace, where politicking can be commonplace, and in some cases, completely unavoidable.

As long as there is more than one person in a team, there will be different agendas, even if the intention is less about competing and undermining others, and more about accomplishing objectives for the greater good of the company.

Still, one has to wonder: Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned hard work?

But whether you view this tug-of-war as a form of proselytism, indoctrination, or just simply gossip, the truth is, canvassing has existed since the dawn of the workplace.

Things, however, move into a muddy zone when manipulation and deceit are used, and emotional injury is inflicted on others.

This might not be a popular opinion, but this is where I feel managers and HR can act as “referees”.

On the football field, when players get into a scuffle and some start to get rough, the job of the referee is to send the aggressors off the field, whether for a stipulated time frame, or for the rest of the match.

Similarly, managers should monitor the behaviour of their staff, and discipline those who have been proven to have “fought dirty” or been otherwise out of line in their approach.

This will not only eliminate the source of contention, it will also send a warning to everyone else exhibiting similar tendencies.

Think about it: if companies are already spending so much time monitoring every small move of their employees, why not formally regulate damaging behaviours that actually impact others negatively?

If we’re going to dedicate resources to dealing with harassment issues, then why aren’t we dealing with individuals who are running their mouths and running amok? Isn’t speaking ill of someone a form of harassment too?

I’m not even remotely saying that I’m a saint. I might have engaged in one instance of slagging behind another person’s back, but I knew immediately I had crossed a line.

To be honest, I know many among us are uncomfortable with confrontation, perhaps even allergic to it (Hello, fellow Librans!). Sometimes, however, getting our feelings out in the open right there and then might actually help to prevent negative emotions from brewing, and hopefully the need to speak ill about those who have hurt us.

Having respect for others and their viewpoints, whether you think you are more capable, experienced, or intelligent than them, will also keep the whole team in a self-regulating state of mind.

Without sounding like an unqualified psychologist, gossiping only highlights one’s own deep-seated issues and their inability to let their work do the talking.

On a business level, ignoring mindless gossip at work can have a direct negative impact on the bottom-line. Multiple studies have shown that the phenomenon can lower employee productivity over time. Often, it also signals deeper problems with employee engagement.

Perhaps, the solution to minimising gossip lies in a complete culture reset.

Getting to the root cause of the problem is key. The authors of a 2014 HR academic journal found that tongue-wagging in the office could be linked to widespread employee cynicism and mistrust of the organisation and its leaders.

Building a high-trust culture, then, seems to be a good starting point. As Evelyn Kwek wrote on HRM Asia.com earlier this year, “Without trust (and a leader’s trustworthiness), employee engagement, at its best, is superficial and temporal; at its worst, leads to feelings of hypocrisy and disappointment.”

And if all this doesn’t deter you from taking part in the occasional chatter, just know that the world of office politics is a dangerous game that all players involved should tread with caution. 

#NoFilter: HRM Magazine’s Kelvin Ong gets candid about what's on his mind in the monthly Two Cents column

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