5 Tips to a Healthy Work Environment

By Sam Chapman  |  Posted 2009-12-08

Gossip is a destructive force in the workplace. It ruins relationships, harms reputations and interferes with productivity. Most importantly, it damages employee morale and makes the office a place where people dread coming each morning.

After dealing with a particularly rampant case of gossip in my public relations firm, I decided it was time to stop the rumor-mongering once and for all. I created a “no-gossip zone” in which my employees and I agreed that we would not gossip—either with each other or about each other.

More than a year and a half later, my firm is flourishing, my employees are happy and gossip is nonexistent. In fact, it went so well that I was even asked to write a book about it, to show other companies how to implement this system in their offices. Here are some guidelines for creating an emotionally healthy work environment.

1. Define gossip. Quite simply, gossip is anything negative that’s said out of the hearing range of the person being discussed. If you have negative feedback about someone’s work performance, you should discuss it with him or her—not with anyone else. Positive comments are not considered gossip, and celebrity gossip is still safe territory.

2. Agree on a “no-gossip” policy. After you define gossip, everyone in your organization should agree to a “no-gossip zone” policy. To create such a zone, everyone on your team must be on board, because gossip is a contagious and easily transmittable social malady. If some team members refuse to agree to a no-gossip policy, you might have to consider letting them go. People who aren’t willing to work together as a team to create a better work environment are not the best employees, and they may cause morale and productivity problems with other staff members.

3. Communicate authentically. In place of gossip, your employees need to learn how to communicate authentically with one another. This type of communication replaces the need for gossip, since people who are able to speak honestly and openly have no need to whisper behind each other’s backs. Authentic communication is based on one simple principle: If you have an issue or complaint concerning someone in the office, talk to that person about it. Encourage employees to address their issues with each other as they come up, rather than bottling them up or taking days to confront the situation.

4. Speak the truth. When communicating, avoid accusations, name-calling and other inauthentic tactics. Instead, say only what is true for you. You can do this by voicing an emotion, a physical sensation or a thought. For example, “I feel angry when you interrupt me in meetings” (emotion); “I feel sick to my stomach when you yell at me” (physical sensation); or “I think that you don’t value my time when you are late to our conference calls” (thought).

By speaking only what is true for you, you can avoid getting into the blame game or arguing over petty details. You get right to the heart of the matter, which means you can solve the issue quickly and move on.

5. Make a no-gossip zone part of your office culture. After implementing a no-gossip zone in your office, it will become part of your culture and daily life. You can then make an effort to hire new employees who will fit into that culture, rather than candidates who might have a hard time acclimating to your workplace atmosphere.

At Empower Public Relations, our Website discusses our no-gossip environment and our commitment to authentic communication. We use our blog to discuss these issues, and we also rely on other modes of social networking, such as Facebook and Twitter, to let the world know how we do business. Both employees and clients have been attracted by our new way of doing things, and business has been significantly better since the no-gossip zone began.

Sam Chapman is the CEO of Empower Public Relations in Chicago and the author of The No-Gossip Zone: a No-Nonsense Guide to a Healthy, High-Performing Work Environment.