Workers may not even feel they’re doing anything wrong when they discuss an employee’s relationship, speculate about a boss’s work history, or share information about a co-worker’s home life. While some see this as mere chit chat, there is a fine line between chit chat and gossip. Chit chat usually involves neutral information that wouldn’t bother or embarrass the subject if he or she were to overhear. Gossip, on the other hand, is more often negative information that could be described as embarrassing and inflammatory to the person being discussed.
Effects of Workplace Gossip
Gossip can spread through an organization like the plague if left uncheck. It can cause rifts between employees, decreasing morale. It may potentially lead to an hostile work environment where employees are unable to trust one another or are forced to take sides. If left unchecked, bullying can lead to harassment. The subject of workplace gossip is likely to feel anger, frustration, embarrassment, and sadness at what is being said about him or her, whether what is being said is true or not. From a managerial standpoint, workplace gossip wastes time, causing productivity issues. It may even result in high turnover, as some employees may choose to move on if they are the target or witness of gossip on a routine basis. Finally, gossip can create liability issues for an organization if it is deemed malicious before a court.
Tips for Curbing Gossip
If you’re in a position of authority in your company or organization, it’s up to you to set a precedent when it comes to workplace gossip. Some companies recommend drafting an office gossip policy. This may be a good idea if you’re working for a new company without a policy already in place. However, if you find yourself in a position where employees are violating an existing workplace harassment or office gossip policy, you will have to take matters into your own hands. The first step is to address the perpetrators personally. Instead of punishing the person for their behavior, try to help them see how they are negatively affecting their fellow employees and the company. After, you may want to have a meeting with your team to address the issue. It’s best to try to provide employees with an encouraging environment for them to share their concerns. Most likely they will want to resolve the problem, too.
When you are the Subject
Finding out you’re the subject of workplace gossip can be devastating. You may feel anger, sadness, or even a desire to retaliate by spreading rumors about the perpetrators. How you act should depend on the nature of the gossip. If it’s untrue and totally unfounded, let it blow over. However, if it’s a rumor that is damaging to your reputation, it’s best to confront the gossipers. You may choose to do this through an employee counselor, if your workplace has one. Alternatively, you can arrange a meeting with the perpetrator and another, neutral colleague to try to discuss the issue.
Workplace gossip can be detrimental to employee morale and workplace productivity. Not to mention, it can hurt feelings and cause employees to distrust one another. It’s best to avoid engaging in workplace gossip if you’re an employee. If you’re a manager, you should take steps to end workplace gossip if you find out it’s happening among your team members.