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How to Deal with Workplace Gossip – Tips & Strategies

TimeWellScheduled

“Gossiping can mean disaster for colleague relationships. As in life, trust is essential in any workplace. When someone spreads rumors or speaks negatively about others, it erodes trust. Worse still, it can easily lead to a hostile work environment.”

Wayne Elsey (Forbes, 2023)

 

Gossip in the workplace is a counterproductive behavior that occurs in the majority of organizations. If left unchecked, it can adversely impact the work environment. Workplace gossip has the capacity to undermine trust in management, lower morale, and hamper productivity. Addressing it head-on is critical for maintaining a positive, harmonious and professional work environment. This article discusses why gossip occurs in the workplace, how it damages the professional work environment, and tips for managers and employees to help deal with workplace gossip before it becomes an issue.

What is Workplace Gossip?

Gossip in the Workplace is informal communication that does not relate to work activities among work colleagues.

Workplace gossip it generally focuses on personal, private, or sensitive information.

How Does Workplace Gossip Impact the Workplace?

In moderation, some workplace gossip is normal and even healthy. However, when it becomes negative, it can become a serious concern for management.

For example, some negative consequences of workplace gossip are (SHRM.ORG):

  • Erosion of trust and morale
  • Lost productivity and wasted time
  • Increased anxiety among employees
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • individual reputation damage

In short, unmanaged gossip can create a toxic environment, lower employee engagement, and lead to misunderstandings, negative rumors and conflicts.

Why Do People Gossip?

People gossip for many reasons. Quite often, it is someone seeking validation. They feel insecure either professionally or personally, and to compensate for their insecurity, they point out the personal or professional shortcomings of others. 

Why Does Workplace Gossip Occur?

Here are a few reasons why gossip arises in the workplace: 

Informal Communication Channels

Gossip often arises from informal communication channels where colleagues share information about others. These discussions can range from personal matters to work-related observations.

These communication channels can be a way for employees to connect with co-workers on a personal level. Even so, sharing personal details about an individual without their consent can quickly turn into gossip. 

Emotional Venting

Workplace gossip can serve as an emotional release for frustrated employees. For instance, when individuals feel their opinions are ignored, they might talk about their manager or co-workers to vent their feelings.

Emotional venting is a type of workplace gossip that temporarily relieves stress. However, gossip can damage relationships and create toxic working conditions. 

Mistrust of Formal Communication Channels

Employees resort to gossip when they lack trust in formal communication channels. For example, individuals may feel that their concerns or issues will not be addressed if they use official channels.

These employees resort to gossip as a means of raising their grievances, even though it doesn’t lead to a positive resolution or their desired outcome. 

Interpersonal Conflicts

Employees may use gossip to deal with interpersonal conflicts indirectly. Employees gossip about them behind their backs instead of addressing issues directly with the person involved.

This type of gossip creates drama, exacerbating the underlying issues rather than resolving them. 

Information Seeking Behavior

Some employees may use gossip to seek information because they feel left out of the loop or curious about the actions or decisions of others.

This form of gossiping becomes a way to fill in information gaps, even if the information is speculative or inaccurate. 

Social Bonding

Workplace gossip can also serve as a tool for social bonding. For some individuals, talking about others can create a sense of camaraderie among colleagues. Gossiping helps them feel connected and part of a group.

Moreover, this type of bonding often comes at the expense of the person being gossiped about. 

Reinforcing Social Norms

Some workplaces use gossip to reinforce social norms and group behaviors. For instance, employees might gossip about those who don’t conform to accepted workplace practices or expectations.

When gossip is used this way, it can create an environment where everyone feels pressured to fit in, sometimes in unhealthy ways. 

Power and Influence

Gossip can allow individuals to exert power and influence over others.

Thus, it is important to control information and the spread of rumors, as some employees try to manipulate situations or gain personal advantages.

These behaviors can lead to a toxic workplace where trust and collaboration are undermined.

Rumors and misinformation in the workplace

“Rumors and misinformation can harm everyone in the workplace. As a gossiper lights the spark, the vicious cycle of gossip can spread like wildfire and rapidly destroy team morale” – Logan Hailey (Science of People, 2023)

Tips & Strategies for Dealing with Workplace Gossip

Here are tips and strategies managers and employees can employ to help prevent gossip from becoming toxic:

Managers 

1) Set Clear Expectations

Managers should clearly communicate that gossip is unacceptable in the workplace.

Regularly outlining and reinforcing professional conduct standards helps establish a culture of mutual respect and integrity. 

2) Promote Open Communication

Encouraging employees to voice their concerns directly and constructively can reduce the need for gossip.

When businesses create a work culture based on open communication, managers can address employee concerns before they become gossip. 

3) Address Gossip Promptly

When gossip arises, managers should intervene quickly to minimize its impact.

Providing employees with immediate feedback about how gossip negatively affects the workplace and hurts individuals reinforces the importance of maintaining a positive and healthy work environment. 

4) Encourage Teamwork and Collaboration

Managers can create opportunities for employees to collaborate on projects.

Building a work culture that values teamwork and synergy reduces the likelihood of employees resorting to gossip. 

5) Create a Positive Work Culture

Promoting a culture of respect, professionalism, and inclusivity helps prevent gossip.

Managers must recognize and reward employees who demonstrate these values, setting a positive example for the team. 

Employees

1) Maintain Professionalism

Employees should avoid gossiping or spreading rumors, focusing instead on work-related conversations and duties.

Maintaining professionalism helps create a respectful, productive, and gossip-free work environment. 

2) Share Information Carefully

Employees should only share personal information with trusted colleagues. This practice helps prevent unnecessary drama.

What’s more, employees should be cautious about discussing sensitive topics with individuals they don’t fully trust. 

3) Change the Subject

When conversations veer into the realm of gossip, employees can steer these discussions back to safe ground by changing the subject.

For example, discussing neutral topics can help redirect the conversation away from gossip. 

4) Identify and Avoid Triggers

Recognizing common phrases or situations that lead to gossip enables employees to avoid them.

Employees who recognize these phrases should politely excuse themselves from the conversation or change the topic to prevent gossip from spreading. 

5) Promote Positive Communication

Acknowledging colleagues’ strengths and achievements encourages a culture of positive and constructive feedback.

Employees who focus on positive communication help to create a more supportive work environment.

 

“When individuals get to know and respect each other, workplace gossip tends to evaporate on its own. Developing a psychologically safe workplace means people should feel free to talk to each other. But they should also feel intrinsically motivated to protect each other as well.” – Allaya Cooks-Campbell.

Final Comments

Workplace gossip is proven to erode trust in management and harm an organization’s culture, leading to a toxic atmosphere. It is important to remember that gossip is not harmless. It can destroy the synergy between co-workers and damage an organization’s profitability. For these reasons, managers and employees must actively combat workplace gossip by promoting open communication, professionalism, and a positive work culture. Taking swift and decisive action to deal with gossip is crucial for maintaining a healthy, productive and positive workplace.

 

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