PSSST! Gossip in the Workplace–Sucks: Dirty Little Secrets May Sound Harmless But, Left Unchecked, It Destroys…

Power of Gossip: Gossip in the workplace may sound like a harmless, unavoidable by-product of corporate life, but don’t be fooled: Left unchecked, gossip can wreak havoc on company morale, efficiency… Nearly two-thirds of adult conversation are devoted to people who aren’t in the room, which translates to more than two hours a day… Gossip is one of the greatest causes of distrust and consequently under-performance in any business…

According to Peter Vajda; gossip is a form of attack that empowers one person while disempowering another… gossip, in its worst manifestations, is likened to a form of workplace violence… And in response, some organizations have gone so far as to craft formal policies against gossip, but this doesn’t get to the root issue…

According to Mary Abbajay; when gossip runs amok it can be dangerous, destructive in the workplace. But what is the difference between an idle chatter and gossip? While idle chit-chat and other light conversation can be ‘value’ neutral, gossip is often negative, inflammatory and embarrassing to the company or person being spoken about… But, for all of its real hazards and potential harm, some researchers think that what goes by the name of ‘gossip’ is not all bad…

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But then, where is the line? Call it gossip or just plain ‘talk.’ Either way, it can be harmful or helpful. It can create an impression that is positive or negative. It can create relationships that are supportive or cut throat. A workplace culture is a reflection of intentions and the words chosen… According to Handel Group; the irony about workplace gossip is that it’s often about things that really matters to the company or team and should be addressed directly…

According to Lisa Swan; while it may seem like no big deal, there are several reasons why workplace gossip can be destructive, for example; It’s two-faced: talking about people and situations behind their backs will almost never have positive results… It rips teams apart: instead of working towards a common goal, gossip will tear the team apart, causing negativity and dissent instead of finding common ground… It doesn’t fix anything: whatever steam that gets let off with workplace gossip it’s temporary– it will continue to fester and cause ongoing problems, until the core issue is resolved…

A study by the Georgia Institute of Technology examines the effects of gossip in the modern workplace… They defined gossip as– the absence of a third-party from the conversation… and researchers set out to discover its role in workplace dynamics… The researchers reached the following conclusions about all that gossipishness; key findings:

  • Gossip has four main purposes: information, entertainment, intimacy, influence…
  • Gossip is ‘all-pervasive’ and is common at every level of an organization…
  • CEOs are a frequent source of gossipy emails…
  • Gossip is as frequent in work communications as it is in personal ones…
  • Some employees are constant ‘gossiping’ while others are merely ‘listening’…
  • Gossip is 2.7 times more likely to be negative than positive…

In the article Workplace Gossip by Mike Myatt writes: Allowing gossip in the workplace is like encouraging your employees to swim with sharks. Let me cut right to the chase – real leaders don’t participate in gossip, and likewise they don’t tolerate gossip from others. Gossip destroys trust, undermines credibility, and is one of the greatest adversaries of a healthy corporate culture. While the emotional distress associated with gossip can be dealt with fairly easily, the political discord that can erupt in an organization can be nothing short of disastrous…

Gossip is one of the most divisive undercurrents pervading business as it allows for the unnecessary dispersion of negative innuendo for pleasure of a few, and to detriment of many… Show me a person that participates in gossip and I’ll show you someone who cannot be trusted. People who participate in gossip often times view their activity as being politically savvy when in fact, gossip is the tool of insecure, rank amateurs… Another definition for gossip is: Gossip is talking about a situation with somebody who is neither a part of the solution or a part of the problem… If you have a problem with a person or take exception to a particular situation, go directly to source, and have the courage and integrity to hit things head on…

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In the article How to Manage Gossip at Work by Susan M. Heathfield writes: Gossip is rampant in many workplaces. Sometimes, it seems as if people have nothing better to do than gossip about each other. They talk about the company, their coworkers, and their managers. They frequently take a partial truth and turn it into a whole speculative truth… It’s unavoidable to expect a certain amount of gossip in the workplace; people want to know what is going and they like to discuss work issues with co-workers and others…

However if you, as a leader, find yourself having to address gossip frequently, maybe you should examine your workplace to better understand the ongoing themes in the gossip, for example; consider that you may not be sharing enough information with employees. Or, it’s possible that employees don’t trust you and are afraid to ask about important topics… If gossip has not been managed in the past, gossip tends to become a negative aspect of the work culture. So, don’t let negative gossip go unaddressed– manage gossip exactly as you would manage any other negative behavior in the workplace; confront it, examine its root cause, resolve it…

In the article Gossip in the Workplace by Julie Tappero writes: Gossip can be good, bad, and ugly, depending on the form it takes. Why does gossip take root in the workplace? We can start with the fact that we are social creatures with curious minds. We are a society built on information and we like to be in the know, knowledge is power… People gossip or spread rumors when information is not in the open or shared in abundance…

Remember the saying; when in doubt, make it up. People, especially in these uncertain times, want to know information about the company, its finances, their jobs, their departments, coworkers, sales, strategies, plans… If the information doesn’t flow their way, they’ll seek it out anyway they can… so encourage an open workplace environment providing real facts and that will dispel gossip.

Hence, managers must make a conscious effort to be accessible to everyone in the organization and become a trusted listener… Dispelling rumors and quelling gossip is a lot easier to do when employees feel free to ask for clarity or facts from someone who knows what’s going on…

In the article Damage of Gossip in the Workplace by Elizabeth Layne writes: For many employees, gossip in the workplace is a frequent guilty pleasure. According to Beth Weissenberger; although it occasionally provides insight into and understanding of the nuances of office personalities and colleague relationships, it often hurts the individuals involved and damages organization. At very least, work place gossip is unproductive; it prevents effective communication about important workplace issues, it isolates people and, at times, it can be the cause for a lawsuit…

According to University of Virginia Health System; people who gossip believe that it helps them fit-in with their co-workers or it gives them a sense of importance… According to Tim Hallett; malicious gossip, e.g.;  saying that a person in the workplace is involved in criminal act or uses drugs damages careers, reputations and even health, it can result in a lawsuit for defamation, invasion of privacy, malicious interference with employability… Both employer and employees who gossip can be held liable for damages…

In the article Workplace Gossip and Rumors by Martin Seidenfeld writes: Gossip and rumors are most likely to spread when there is a lack of clear, frequent communication between management and workers… If you allow yourself to participate in workplace gossip, you perpetuate it and damage your own image. Especially if you have leadership aspirations, or you are already in a position of leadership, any participation in gossip is mostly viewed negatively and as a blow to team cohesiveness…

Gossip is usually aimed at undermining the credibility or likability of another person. Gossipers tend to moralize and may subtly, or not so subtly, flaunt their ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. Gossiping helps them to get the attention they crave… However, you must also consider the possibility that gossip about a specific situation or worker may point to a real problem that needs to be examined… Resolving the subject of the gossip just might just help the organization, team, workplace… to improve.

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Is the gossip fact or fiction? The truth is that it just does not matter. Gossip and rumors are a destructive force in the workplace… Employees who start rumors and spread gossip may not intend to cause harm, but what needs to be considered is the gross negative impact on the entire organization. Lives are affected in immeasurable ways; careers can come to a crashing halt, families fall apart and companies may even close their doors…

Oscar Wilde once wrote; there is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about… gossip is self-perpetuating: The more people talk about you, the more important you become; and the more important you become, the more people talk about you– it’s a twisted badge of honor…

According to Jack and Suzy Welch; the biggest dirty little secret in business is absence of ‘candor’ and it’s single largest roadblock keeping companies from being effective.The concept is simple but its consequences are huge. Without of an open culture of frank, sincere and exhaustively honest talk, people feel left out of important conversations…

Focus on open, honest, and regular communication, and build a culture of mutual respect and integrity– You won’t ever stop all gossip completely, but you can create more trust and harmony within your workplace and the organization… Be proactive: Build a culture of mutual respect…

Here is a ‘gossip’ test: Consider the impact of what is being said: Does it cast negative aspersions? Does it create rifts? Does it exult in the misfortune of others? Does it have a negative emotional charge? Does it serve to perpetuate conflict or negativity? Is it hurtful or damaging?