Gossip: Am I at Work or in High School?

Dealing with the "mean girls" in the workplace.

Gossip. Let’s face it; it is part of our everyday lives and is usually associated with a negative connotation. What creates gossip, are conversations about someone else that includes facts that may not be true. However, gossip is not only about someone else, but can also be about an organization in general. This is why it is so common to hear gossip in the workplace. Research has found that  66% of any conversation between two employees is some form of gossip, and 14% of what employees chat about during work breaks include workplace gossip. And contrary to this article’s title, gossip can come from anybody in the workplace, regardless of gender, job title, or tenure.

Now, the facts above may come as a surprise to you since topics such as sensitivity, workplace culture, and diversity have been a huge focus for organizations and HR professionals. But, think about it for a second. How many times have you heard that there might be a visit from head office, or that Sally might be getting a promotion? Conversations such as these may seem mundane, but in reality, if a workplace allows such conversations to continue, not only with employee performance go down, but organizational effectiveness will decline too.

The negative effects of gossip can include cynicism and anxiety among employees.

The negative effects of gossip can include cynicism and anxiety among employees. Imagine this scenario: Jim has been working at ABC company for a number years and is planning to apply for an internal posting. Jim has accumulated quite a bit of seniority and believes that he is a shoe-in for the position. Meanwhile, Layla, a relatively new hire, is also planning to apply for the same position and is relying on her qualifications to perform well in the interview and get the job. One day Layla walks past the break room an overhears Jim telling a colleague that he’s got a good chance of getting the position because seniority is given a higher weight in the interview than experience. Now put yourself in Layla’s shoes. You’re probably feeling even more anxious because even though you felt you did well in the interview, there is a good chance that you won’t get the job. You’re probably also feeling a bit resentful towards the company for not conducting the internal hiring fairly. Why shouldn’t a more qualified person receive the position regardless of seniority, right?

Obviously, not everyone in Layla’s shoes will react poorly to overhearing what Jim said, but it can happen. An employee in Layla’s situation could lose his or her motivation at work. He or she can passively complete tasks or even start rumors about the company or its employees. If the behavior isn’t stopped, it can create quite a toxic work environment and then the company will have an even bigger problem on its hands.

So what can we do? Well, the best thing for a manager to do is to prevent it altogether. Ensure that there is a zero-tolerance policy for gossip in the workplace and make sure that it indicates the repercussions for such behaviours. In addition, be transparent about workplace issues and processes. For example, if there is a possibility of layoffs, communicate all relevant information to the employees as soon as possible. If your organization posts positions internally, be sure that interviews are carried out in a consistent manner and be able to justify your decision should it ever be questioned. Lastly, if gossip does occur, stop it immediately. Encourage employees to come forward and report any acts of gossip that may be occurring; sometimes a general email reminding all employees of a certain policy is enough to stop the behavior.

Creating a gossip-free workplace doesn’t stop at the manager level, however. Employees must also be proactive in preventing gossip in the workplace. Always conduct yourself with integrity; reflect on your actions and how it may be perceived. Make an effort to change workplace conversations; talk about topics and not people. Be mindful that you are not gossiping, and ask your colleagues to help keep you accountable (hopefully they will ask the same of you, too!). Lastly, if you do come across someone gossiping about you, don’t retaliate. Stay calm and approach the situation in a tactful manner. Approach the person directly and ask them to stop. If this is not enough, speak to your supervisor and follow your workplace’s policies and procedures for workplace conduct.

In this day and age, teamwork is so important in the workplace, so why ruin it with an old habit? If all managers and employees follow the tips above to prevent and manage gossip, imagine how much more productive everyone would be. There is no better feeling than coming to work and working hard not because you have to, but because you want to. And eliminating gossip is guaranteed to get you one step closer to that feeling!

Need some help with gossip in your workplace?


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