Gossip in the Workplace
Leading, directing, and managing are essential roles for a successful director. In all three areas, the ideas of professional behavior, respectful relationships, and building community are essential. In discussions with other program administrators, one of the unspoken challenges we face seems to be gossip in the workplace—gossip that undermines our vision; gossip that separates our team; gossip that can alienate families. How do we lead, coach, and manage the gossiper?
First, we need to understand what gossiping is. Gossip is avoiding conflict by sabotage. It is manipulative behavior meant to hurt or discredit others. It can be seen as venting, but gossip is destructive, not constructive. Gossip can be described as bullying. It has been pointed out that 80% of early childhood leaders seek to avoid conflict, so addressing gossip head on can be difficult. Our tendency is to ignore it and hope it will go away, but gossip doesn’t just disappear. Program administrators can take a stand and choose professionalism over negativity and gossip. Where do we start? Here are some suggestions for early childhood leaders to consider as we take a bold approach to eliminating gossip.
- We need to examine our own behaviors. Are we modeling professional behavior? We must not engage in gossip (listening to gossip is gossip); we must be willing to create and enforce policies that support problem solving instead of negativity. We must spend time training our staff in policies and procedures to eliminate gossip.
- We must bring the staff onboard. Plan a staff meeting to share your vision of an environment of problem solving instead of negativity. Talk about it with staff individually and let them know how you will handle the discussion of problems. In one center, the director’s open door policy for staff members to discuss problems was actually encouraging gossip. She informed the staff that, while she welcomed discussion of any type, the center’s procedure would be to bring in the other party if needed. Employees venting about each other stopped after consistent enforcement of this new policy.
- Update the employee handbook and job descriptions to acknowledge and promote new policies. Create a statement for employees that reflect the center’s commitment to professionalism and respect.
- Empower your staff by giving them the opportunity to role play and practice avoiding gossip. Plan staff meetings in which staff develops statements to use with each other to avoid gossip. ("I prefer not to talk about this right now." "I don’t think we need to have this conversation.") Let them develop other strategies to promote a positive climate; the use of humor is especially effective in this area. These strategies might include walking away politely from co-workers who gossip; directing parents who ask inappropriate questions to you, or breaking out in a children’s song to deflect negativity.
Successful program administrators lead, manage, and coach. Being committed to a more positive environment, one in which problem solving replaces gossip, will reap benefits for staff members as well as children and families. See references below for resources that will help you get started.
Bruno, H. (2009). Leading on purpose: Emotionally intelligent early childhood administration. NY: McGraw Hill.
Carter, M. & Curtis, D. (1998). The visionary director: A handbook for dreaming, organizing, and improvising in your center. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.