Is gossip holding back your employee engagement efforts?

Office Gossip

A few days ago, I saw an article on a new global employee engagement study which had just been released by ORC International.

The study which surveyed more than 7,000 employees across 20 countries produced some interesting but also worrying results. Worrying, in particular, if you are running a business in the UK, which ranked 18th out of 20 countries in the global study. India and China ranked first and second, the USA ranked 6th and only Japan and Hong Kong ranked lower than the UK.

The survey went on to say that on every measure UK employee engagement had fallen over the last year. In particular, the survey reported that the relationship between managers and their staff is not, generally, considered to be positive. Going into more detail the ORC International reported that almost a third of employees in the UK reported that they did not have a positive relationship with their managers and around half of them said that they did not feel valued at work.

Now, employee engagement is a global issue and UK businesses are not alone in facing these challenges. However, the UK results did make me think about engagement as a whole and what firms and survey firms include when considering this issue.

The results also reminded me of a post by fellow Forbes contributor and blogger, Jessica Hagy, on her own blog (Indexed) – How to enjoy work more – that, I believe, illustrates an often overlooked area.

How to enjoy work more
Jessica’s diagram (above) made me think how employee engagement is not just about how employees engage with their work, their company and their bosses. It’s not simply an up and down thing, between staff and managers. There’s more to it than that. It’s also about the work environment and how employees engage with each other.

If this is true then employees themselves have to take responsibility for their own engagement. Not just in their relations with their managers or how they conduct their work but also how they treat each other.

That’s where culture comes into it and Jessica’s diagram goes to the heart of it.

Too often have I seen companies where their cultures are inconsistent (i.e. they say one thing and do another) and then they subsequently struggle with engaging each other and their customers.

Often this manifests itself as a toxic work environment. One that is riven with politics, cliques, gossip, in-fighting, jealousy and people talking about each other rather than to each other.

Some might say this is natural human behaviour. I agree. It’s natural, that it exists. But, is it acceptable? No. Not if you want to build a high-performing and sustainable business and one that has engaged employees and engaged customers at it’s heart.

Therefore, it’s important to remember that engagement is not just about what you do to or how you treat your employees, it’s also about how they treat each other.

So, if you are fretting about how to build a more engaged workforce, how about asking yourself if you see evidence of politics, cliques, gossip, in-fighting, jealousy and people talking about each other rather than to each other in your work place. If you do, then perhaps ridding your company of these behaviours is a good place to start. No amount of good works in other areas is going to make up for a toxic culture.

Time for a culture reboot?



This post was originally published on my column.

Photo Credit: miss pupik via Compfight cc

9 comments On Is gossip holding back your employee engagement efforts?

  • Adrian,

    Interesting post, I think you are right we all have ourselves to blame if we are not engaged with our jobs, though I do think it works both ways.

    As for gossip, I think that is an effect not a cause. maybe we ought to do something about the things we do that cause our staff to gossip in the first place.


    • James,
      I agree. It’s the culture that counts and will dictate what is acceptable and what is not. However, given that many workplaces suffer from the impact of negative gossip, it would suggest that they haven’t gotten their culture absolutely right. More work to be done.


  • Hello Adrian,

    I wish to make a distinction between involving employees in the mission, organisation and function of the organisation and ’employee engagement’. It occurs to me that most of that which falls under the ’employee engagement’ umbrella is the same old management philosophy-agenda dressed up in the newer fashions. And most of us are simply not interested in becoming engaged in someone’s agenda. Especially, when that agenda is for the Tops to make more money by getting the Bottoms to put more of themselves into the work so that Tops make more money.

    All the best

    • Hi Maz,
      I agree that is a tall-order to expect someone to sign up to a mission statement which is all about self-enrichment of others. Makes sense then that those firms that invoke a higher purpose can tend to have more ‘engaged’ staff.


  • I am in complete agreement with James. (Shocker. That never happens. ;-))

    I’ve written about this a few times… employee engagement is absolutely a two-way street, and we do need to take responsibility for our side of that street. At the same time, if we work in a toxic culture, one in which leadership is perhaps the root cause, then that’s a different problem.

    Annette 🙂

    • Hi Annette,
      I couldn’t agree more. It is a two-way street. Sometimes I wonder, though, how much responsibility each side takes for it’s part? And, how much the responsibility is understood?


  • The question at the end says it all: “Time for a culture reboot?”.
    With the younger Millennials (Generation-Y) becoming a more influential workforce, it follows that their attitudes will become the prevailing culture in the coming years. That culture is one of collaboration, mutual recognition and personal responsibility. So whilst the vertical communication lines of a traditional company structure are still in place (and being noted by this article as a driver for poor engagement), I believe the tide will soon turn and us Brits will begin to enjoy healthier and stronger engagement in the workplace.
    Clearly this needs a lot of guidance and leadership, so it’s up to us lot to contribute to its success.

    • Hi James,
      Thanks for your comment. I think you might be right and hope that the values of Gen-Yers hold and stay the course. However, I think that we have a responsibility to precipitate a necessary change now and not wait for possible, natural demographic changes to occur.

      What do you think?


      • Yes Adrian, it’s definitely our responsibility, which is where I was going with my last sentence.
        Whilst we weren’t born into the mindset of Gen-Y, we clearly understand it and are adopting it as part of our own cultural change. Therefore we are fortunate in having the perspective to use the wider experience and knowledge of our generation to communicate the benefits of this paradigm change to others. So it’s only right that we are obliged to drive that change – we should remember that it’ll improve our lives too.

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