There’s a reason why gossip websites, such as law’s very own AboveTheLaw.com, are so successful. People want to know about the industry’s most colorful and powerful personalities.
On a smaller scale, within law firms, gossip spreads at a similar, alarming rate. Which two associates are dating? Who got in trouble for arriving late? And, what partner grandstanded in the courtroom yesterday?
Although it’s impossible to control the social lives of employees, especially their behavior after hours, law firm administrators can and should control the fallout talk about work or play that circulates the office.
Gossip frequently leads to diminished efficiency and morale.
Ideally, talk among co-workers, managers, and executives about work-related matters would be billable time. Often, however, discussions move from friendly banter, to debatable rumors, to potentially harmful criticism.
Although a certain amount of disapproval over management decisions can be expected in the corporate world, excessive complaining can lead to workplace resentment, decreased cooperation, and increased distraction—and often, the basis for these actions stem from false information.
In addition, gossip encourages passive protest over policy, but no suggested course of action to resolve the situation.
For example, associates are disgruntled for having to stay an extra hour after work on a Friday evening, when, in the meantime, management has no idea that simply moving the assembly to the following Monday would placate the team.
Gossip usually discusses small problems that have simple solutions. But, we all know what happens when a person makes a mountain out of molehill…
So, how do administrators minimize this toxic talk?
1. Lead by example
Encourage your upper management not to participate in gossip. If managers and senior attorneys stay away from gossip, the younger attorneys will likely follow suit.
(Plus, lost time to gossip by senior attorneys and partners costs your firm more in terms of billable tenths of the hour.)
2. Provide anonymous outlets for complaints
Gossip is often promulgated by some sort of dissatisfaction with firm policy.
Therefore, allow associates to report “problems” that exist at the firm and the to propose their own “solutions” for any issue at hand.
Make sure the forum to contribute these criticisms is completely anonymous.
Anonymity will encourage associates to participate without fear of reprisals by management. And, management, for its part, will actually benefit from the group brainstorming and collaboration.
Use the “problem/solution” forum to streamline work practices and increase efficient at your firm.
3. Be active about implementing change
Prove to associates that your firm is open to change.
For example, if the majority of employees are seeking FLEX scheduling, take serious consideration. Hire consultants to find out whether or not FLEX scheduling is feasible and financial viable at your firm. Circulate the consultants’ complete findings firm-wide. This way, whatever the end result, your employees see your due diligence and decision-making transparently.
Employee morale is nothing to trifle out. Happy employees will stay at the firm longer, recruit other qualified peers to your practice, and remain sincerely invested in the profitability of your business.
Curbing gossip and channeling its negativity into productive ideas for improvement is key to the success of your law firm.
For more information about effective management of workplace gossip, read C4CM’s Guide to Handling and Minimizing Toxic Talk.