Follow these 4 steps to recognize, address, reduce, and eliminate gossip in the workplace.
One of the best things about connecting with colleagues is the camaraderie that it brings. From coffee breaks in the office, to chat sessions around the virtual water cooler for remote teams, it’s great to have people to share tidbits about life with who know you well — but are somewhat separate from the life you live outside of work. There are certain coworker relationships that are special and valued.
But getting a group of people together can lead to less than ideal outcomes as well. One of those is the all too familiar office gossip problem.
You don’t have to be the victim of office gossip to think back to high school and remember how painful it can be when people talked poorly behind your back. When the chit chat that’s vital to office relationships veers into the unhealthy and hurtful realm of gossip that trades in talking badly about others, you’ve got to do something about it. If an office rumor mill runs unchecked, it can leave its victims without morale and heading to the door — destroying their mental and emotional health along the way.
But what can you realistically do about workplace gossip? How can you even identify it to begin with? Here are a few tips and tricks for noticing, addressing, and ultimately reducing or eliminating dreaded office gossip.
If an office rumor mill runs unchecked, it can leave its victims without morale and heading to the door — destroying their mental and emotional health along the way.
First, don’t contribute to gossip
We can all be lured in by juicy information about people we know, but there’s simply no room for it in a professional setting — especially if you’re in a leadership role of any kind. When you hear gossip, don’t participate in it and consider contrasting it by leading by example. Don’t overshare details of your personal life and don’t indulge in overly personal conversations with coworkers while in the office.
Consider pointing out that the person being discussed isn’t here to defend themselves. Note that just because people are discussing information and passing it on to others doesn’t mean that it’s true.
Have, and enforce, a policy on gossip
If your company has a policy against gossiping, this might be a good time to not only remind employees of it, but why it exists in the first place.
If your company has a policy against gossiping, this might be a good time to not only remind employees of it, but why it exists in the first place. Gossip can be deadly to healthy office relationships and company morale.
If your company doesn’t have an office policy on gossip, now is a good time to add one. Unlike children who are perhaps more apt to take instruction without asking too many questions, rules can be more effective for adults if they are accompanied by a reasonable explanation for why the rule exists. This also shows that you’re not just arbitrarily making rules and trying to control your employees for no good reason — in fact, it’s just the opposite.
Consider outlining the damage that gossip can do in your policy. Research shows that, while workplace gossip can be unifying for those on the inside, it’s damaging to those who are its victims. When gossip is true, it can lead to short-term increases in work effort — but that’s only when it’s true. Either way, workplace gossip leads to its targets losing their desire to cooperate with their team members regardless of whether or not the gossip is true.
Then, outline the disciplinary actions for gossiping at work based on how you classify the behavior at your business. It depends on the nature of the gossip, but you can certainly hold workers accountable for bullying, harassment, or even creating a hostile work environment as a result.
Make transparency king
Oftentimes gossip is the result of a lack of information. Imagine a rumor about layoffs going around and each time someone hears it, they add in their own guesses to fill in gaps in information and before you know it a full-blown falsehood is being circulated around the office.
The best way to manage this kind of gossip is to be as transparent as possible with the information you have, particularly information that impacts your employees. When people are informed with the right information, there’s less space for false information to fill voids.
When gossip does occur, it’s best to act fast in order to nip the behavior in the bud. The longer the behavior goes on, the more other employees will have the chance to witness it and assume that it’s permissible, or at least won’t result in disciplinary action.
Take steps to eliminate the gossip by identifying who has been participating in it, who started it, and who the victim is. Then, depending on the situation, you can set up individual meetings or a group meeting to root out the issue at the core of the rumors and put an end to it then and there. Having a policy on workplace gossip comes in handy during these meetings because it makes it easy to refer the offending parties to the company’s policy and the potential disciplinary actions associated with it.
Treat gossip like any other negative behavior
Just like any other professional behavioral issue, start with coaching first. For many people who have been gossiping since junior high, it can be a tough habit to break so be patient but inflexible in the fact that it has to stop.
While firing an employee for gossiping can seem extreme, consider the tolls it can take on everything — from morale to employee happiness. Termination for office gossip is an option, but it should be a last resort.
Instead, work through traditional improvement and discipline plans that progress through various stages of warnings and improvement plans. It can be tough to let people go for something so unrelated to their performance as an employee, but gossip can kill the positive company culture that you’ve worked tirelessly to construct and maintain. It’s essential that you protect it.