Rumor Mill Shredding Your Team’s Morale?
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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If the drama in your office rivals that of a Shakespearean tragedy, perhaps it’s time to look more closely at the inspiration for these Oscar winning performances. Too often it’s office gossip that is the purveyor of the poison that sickens the best of workplaces and leads to a multitude of issues, problems, and seemingly perpetual ups and downs. Left unchecked, gossip can become a huge waste of time as it takes the focus away from work that needs to be done, systems that must be managed, and patients that require your undivided attention. Moreover, it can be profoundly devastating to the effectiveness of individuals and the team as a whole, and can erode morale faster than a tsunami can flatten an entire village. And perhaps more frightening than all of the above, gossip can put your practice in the crosshairs of legal action.
The reality is that even seemingly harmless comments about a coworker can unravel the most harmonious of offices. Thus, it is essential to establish a practice culture in which gossip, rumor, and innuendo simply are not tolerated.
Keep a lid on rumors in your practice by following these strategies:
Put your expectations in writing. In dental practices, which tend to be smaller businesses, a clear code of conduct should be an established part of every dental office policy manual. The code may include many facets, not the least of which is an ethics and professionalism policy that outlines appropriate office behavior and makes it clear that all employees are expected to treat patients, as well as each other, with dignity and respect. Inform your employees that attacking each other, no matter what the circumstance, simply will not be tolerated.
Institute a performance evaluation system to measure the effectiveness of employee communication skills. Employees that engage in spreading gossip should be confronted and warned that their behavior is damaging to the practice and will not be tolerated.
Ask a few key questions. If employees claim they are unsure as to what constitutes gossip, the following questions will help make things a little clearer: Is what I am saying true? Could it harm another person? Is it necessary? How would I feel if someone made these comments about me? Would I be comfortable if every person in the office heard me say these things? Is this conversation consistent with my personal values and professional standards?
Pay attention to your practice culture. Have you pitted one group against another in competition to see which area can achieve or exceed its established goals? Friendly challenges can be a very good and an effective motivator, unless some get so caught up in the idea of winning that they resort to damaging tactics – in this case disparaging their coworkers for personal gain.
Keep employees informed. The leader of the practice, typically, the dentist, must set aside time regularly to talk with staff, both in a group and individually, about major office decisions. The fact is that when there is a communication vacuum the rumor mill fills in the gaps. Ongoing communication is critical, especially when major issues and decisions are made such as relocation plans, layoffs, employee firings, wage freezes, doctor’s pending retirement, etc. Give employees the opportunity to ask questions and discuss rumors either in a group or individually.
Encourage employees to take a stand against gossip. Team members can let the gossiper know that they do not care to engage in this kind of conversation. They don’t have to be combative or negative, just honest about the fact that it makes them uncomfortable to talk about another person in this way. Although for the pioneers taking such action can feel rather intimidating, each time they stand up to the gossiper they not only become more comfortable doing so but they give power to others in the group to take the same steps. Eventually, the gossiper, if he or she is allowed to stick around, doesn’t have an audience.
Instituting a policy to eliminate gossip is virtually impossible. However, creating a practice culture that doesn’t tolerate it is not only possible, but highly effective.
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