Limit Gossip in the Workplace to Improve Your Business Culture

We humans are a curious bunch and very social. Talking to the people we work with all day is natural and healthy. It’s great for camaraderie and team bonding and helps us feel engaged and connected.

But when healthy conversation turns into gossip, it can have the opposite effect, distracting us from doing good work by creating a toxic workplace that fosters division and dissension and contributes to an atmosphere of mistrust and paranoia. If Jim is saying that about Randall, then what’s he saying about me? Allowed to run unchecked, gossip can have devastating ramifications for workplace morale and productivity. Like any other potential workplace issue, the sooner you address the effects of gossip, the sooner you can limit them.

Every workplace is vulnerable to gossip, whether it’s a day care, retail store, or office. Keep in mind that not all conversation is gossip. Gossip is not sharing accurate, necessary, and appropriate information, and it is not talking about causal, neutral, and friendly topics. Gossip is talking about someone who is not present in order to show them in a negative light or harm them in other ways. Listening to gossip can be just as bad as spreading it because it creates an audience in which the negativity can take seed and flourish.

What Does Gossip Look Like?

Gossip can be about family issues:

  • I heard Sally and her husband are having trouble. He’s drinking again, you know.
  • John’s son got busted for speeding, and it’s not the first time.
  • Ann’s father has dementia. Poor women, no wonder she’s so tired.

Gossip can be about work issues.

  • Joe really tanked that last project. He’ll probably be demoted or fired.
  • What a brown-noser that Maureen is. No wonder she keeps getting promoted.
  • I saw some suits in here last week, all very hush hush. I think they’re selling the company.

Gossip can be personal.

  • Sam’s lost a lot of weight lately. Is he sick?
  • Do you think George has had work done? His skin seems tighter than it used to.
  • Ever since her divorce, Mary’s been a little wild, don’t you think?

We’ve all heard stories like these, and maybe even passed them along. If as the owner or leader of a firm or team you’ve told such stories, then stop right now. Gossip is particularly destructive coming from the top, but any gossip can have negative impacts on the company, including:

  • Low employee morale.
  • Low employee productivity when gossip is the focus instead of work.
  • An erosion of employee’s trust in each other and their managers.
  • Lack of teamwork.
  • An adversarial work environment.

Sometimes employers attempt to prevent gossip by including anti-gossip policies in their handbooks, and that’s it. They think the problem is fixed. Such policies are a good start, but these policies 1) don’t hold up in court and 2) do little to actually curtail gossip without more hands-on follow-up. 

Ways to Combat Gossip

A multi-pronged approach is the best way to limit gossip in the workplace.

  • Update all your company’s job descriptions to include “maintain a gossip free workplace” as an important goal.
  • Make a clear “Gossip is not tolerated” statement to employees and hold a meeting with all employees about the negative impacts of gossip. Follow up with this message regularly in huddles and other meetings.
  • Educate employees on problem solving strategies and collaboration to minimize gossip due to workplace friction and frustration.
  • Encourage employees to speak up against gossip when they hear it with such responses as, “I am not comfortable talking about that person when they’re not present.”
  • Ask employees to consider the information they share with their coworkers more carefully. Employees often unwittingly create their own gossip by oversharing. As with the children’s game of telephone, the story can morph and get distorted as it spreads through the workplace.
  • Provide a positive work environment by celebrating employee successes as often as possible. It may seem like a small thing, but rewarding positive behavior can go a long way to preventing negative behavior such as gossiping. When people feel good about themselves, they are less likely to try to bring down others with gossip and backbiting.

The Most Important Factor

The most important step any manager can take to stop workplace gossip is to set a good example by not gossiping themselves.

By limiting gossip in the workplace, leaders can foster a culture of engagement, trust, and collaboration and go a long way toward generating high employee morale, productivity, and retention.
Do you think your workplace needs help limiting gossip? Give Structure for Success a call and we can schedule a workshop addressing your particular needs.