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Gossip: A Killer of Workplace Morale

Written by Mohammad Abdullah Kawish

Have you ever strolled past the breakroom and spotted a small group of colleagues quietly chatting in the corner? Have you felt those same people looking at you suspiciously whenever you enter a room? Been there. Done that. Guess what? Your coworkers are gossiping, and it could hurt you (or others) in the office. While gossip may appear to some to be innocuous, it can be quite damaging to the entire company.

How does one differentiate between gossip and a general discussion?

Here's where things become tough, and how to spot the difference. When light conversation and idle chitchat turn unpleasant, provocative, and embarrassing to the individual being spoken about, you have entered gossip territory, which is a kind of assault and workplace violence in HR terms.

If you are still not certain, put the conversation to the test:

  • Is the discussion celebrating someone else’s suffering?

  • Is there a negative emotional component to it, or does it appear to promote conflict?

  • Would you avoid saying it directly to the person?

  • Is it a rumor concerning another employee's job status (promotion or demotion)?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it's gossip.

But why is gossip so dangerous for the workplace?

As gossip circulates, which it undoubtedly does, it may have a wide range of negative consequences on workplace culture, including:

  • Trust erosion: Creating a productive work environment requires trust. Rumors diminish confidence. Those who indulge in the activity may worry if other colleagues are gossiping about them behind their backs. And it is assumed that the person who is the focus of the gossip will discover it and never be able to trust their colleagues again.

  • Low morale: Gossiping fosters a backstabbing climate that can make the workplace miserable. High turnover rates result from low morale, placing the company at a competitive disadvantage.

  • Hindering teamwork: It can be damaging to teamwork in professional environments that necessitate collaboration. When employees learn they are the subject of gossip, they are less likely to want to collaborate with the coworkers who spread the rumors. This generally results in a poisonous work atmosphere in which people are more concerned with their peers' disruptive behavior than with getting the job done.

  • Litigation: When gossip turns malevolent, the person on the receiving end may regard it as harassment. If they seek a solution by reporting it to a supervisor or through the organization's complaint procedure and do not receive satisfactory results, their next step might be to file a lawsuit. Public litigation could turn into a disaster for the organization's reputation.

  • Disciplinary action: Gossip does not just involve personal assaults on others; it may also involve exposing critical or confidential information to folks who should not have access to it. This will constitute a breach of corporate policy, which may result in disciplinary action, including termination.

Now that you understand how destructive negative chatter can be, here are nine simple steps to help you, as an employer, eliminate gossip from the workplace.

  1. Implement a 'zero-tolerance' workplace gossip policy. Many businesses have policies in place to prevent workers from releasing sensitive information about employees. If, for example, a manager releases sensitive information about a staff member that leads to gossiping, the manager may face disciplinary action.

  2. Set a good example. Do not gossip and be a role model for others to follow. When the gossip begins, be firm and change the subject. You are sending a message to others that this conduct will not be allowed.

  3. Notify the supervisor. If the talk is spreading and gathering supporters, have the fortitude to alert your immediate supervisor. Managers who advocate for a healthy work environment should now approach the issue in a way that supports and promotes a positive workplace.

  4. Act against the culprits. Stand up to the culprits and address them one-on-one in a neutral and secluded setting. The goal is not to smackdown, but to explain how the behavior is hurting the work environment.

  5. Meet with your team if you are the manager. In a work meeting, bring up the issue of gossip to educate your team on its harmful repercussions.

  6. Encourage positive conversations. The inverse of gossip is to cultivate a culture in which individuals share stories about success at work. An example would be an employee going out of their way to service a client, then management sharing the story company-wide and on social media to enhance the brand value. Consider morning huddles with positive chatter and use storytelling to reinforce the cultural values and key behaviors you want.

  7. Ignore the Gossip. Gossipers love attention and will take advantage of open and welcoming ears. Your strategy is to be preoccupied with your work (as you should be), so you are not accessible to listen. Do not take the juicy gossip baton from the gossiper (because they want to spread it by engaging other gossipers).

  8. Respond with something positive. Deflect the chatter by expressing something genuinely good that you believe to be accurate and fair - the other side of the coin. A compliment about the individual being attacked will put the gossiper on the spot and may prevent them to continue the conversation.

  9. Keep your personal life private. Do not share personal information at work with someone who might use it as fuel for gossip. If you discover them chatting about others, you should know they are gossiping about you. Do not give them the means to do so.

We spend a lot of time at work. It should be a place that is welcoming and comfortable. Gossip creates a toxic atmosphere in the workplace. Don’t let it take hold. It could ruin your business and take years to recover.

How do you handle gossip in the workplace?

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