January 23, 2024
Title image with "Navigating Workplace Gossip: Strategies for Employers & Managers" over photo of two female coworkers whispering and pointing as if gossiping

Gossip in the workplace is like a wildfire—it can start from a tiny spark and quickly spread, leaving behind a trail of damage to employee relations and company culture. Whether it’s a casual comment at the water cooler or a rumor whispered in the hallway, workplace gossip can have significant repercussions if left unchecked. 

Consider this scenario: A seemingly harmless comment about a colleague’s work ethic evolves into a full-blown rumor questioning their competence. Before long, productivity suffers as trust deteriorates among team members, leading to strained relationships and a toxic work environment. 

Gossip isn’t just a nuisance—it’s a productivity killer. Its ripple effects include reduced employee morale and job satisfaction, ultimately affecting organizational performance.

Let’s explore the intricacies of workplace gossip, its impact, and, most importantly, how employers and managers can effectively address and prevent it. 

Preventing Workplace Gossip & Conflicts

Follow these tips to mitigate office gossip from the start.

Set the example

Managers should start by setting a mature, respectful example by not participating in gossip in the first place. They must set the tone—which can be hard for newly promoted managers, who should no longer participate in the water cooler rumors. But remember, it starts at the top!

Train managers on preventing and addressing gossip

Regular training sessions and workshops on preventing and handling workplace gossip are also essential. These workshops should equip managers with the skills to spot early signs of negative talk, intervene effectively, and facilitate conflict resolution. The goal is to prevent or stop gossipers as early as possible. 

Stop gossipers before they divulge

Employees should feel empowered to shut down the conversation politely but firmly when a colleague approaches another with workplace gossip. They could even forewarn the gossiper that they will act on the information by addressing the issue with the original source. This proactive approach sends a clear message that gossip has no place in the workplace culture.

How to Deal with Gossip in the Workplace

Of course, you employ humans, and sometimes, workplace gossip is unavoidable. So, how should leaders and managers address negative chatter when it arises?

Speak with the primary gossipers

When workplace gossip occurs, managers should first meet with the main perpetrator(s) to stop it from escalating. These should be one-on-one meetings in an enclosed office or conference room; if more than one person is involved, meet with them individually. This allows you to understand the root cause and provide support or resolution where necessary.

Rather than calling out individuals publicly, keep the conversation confidential and constructive by going directly to the source of the gossip for the full story. Listening and keeping an open mind is important, as is maintaining a critical eye—without making accusations, as this could spur defensive responses. 

Start by addressing the content of the gossip rather than the act of gossiping itself. This means addressing the gossipers’ concerns or complaints. 

This puts you in a better position to hold the perpetrators accountable for the gossiping behavior. Begin by focusing on the facts. If you find they have been spreading harmful gossip, highlight the potential harm of their actions and inform employees about the repercussions of what will happen if they don’t stop gossiping. Corrective action could include a written warning, demotion, or suspension.

Document the issue and relevant conversations

Record the workplace gossip incident and all related conversations with those involved. This ensures you have proof of the issue, how it was resolved, and any warnings or disciplinary action you’ve taken with the gossipers. 

Hold a team meeting

After speaking with the key gossipers, gather the relevant team(s) to discuss the situation and the issue of workplace gossip. Remind employees to avoid gossip, work out issues directly with coworkers if possible, and bring any concerns to management. Addressing the issue transparently encourages open communication and reinforces the expectation of professionalism in the workplace.

Something you can encourage is “positive gossip,” such as sharing team or individual wins. For example, spreading the word about an employee going the extra mile for a client or a department providing a unique solution or idea that positively impacts the company. Sharing positive stories can be rewarding and boost morale and productivity. 

Should Companies Have a Workplace Gossip Policy?

You might think a workplace gossip policy is necessary, but past cases prove otherwise. In December 2013, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Administrative Law Judge Donna Dawson found Laurus Technical Institute’s no-gossip policy “overly broad,” stating that it violated the National Labor Relations Act. 

The school’s policy prohibited discussing an individual personally or professionally when they or their manager weren’t present. It also prevented “making negative or disparaging comments or criticisms about anyone; creating, and sharing or repeating, a rumor about another person; and discussing work issues or terms and conditions of employment with other employees.”

Establishing a strict policy on workplace gossip could be ineffective and even risky. Often, these are too broad to be enforceable or are too restrictive and violate protected concerted activity (e.g., voicing concerns about working conditions, discussing wages, or complaining about supervisors). 

Instead, take an educational approach with both leadership and staff. Train managers to identify the line between harmless chatter and genuinely concerning issues of harassment, health, or safety. Incorporating these discussions into an overarching effort to mitigate bullying or unprofessional conduct fosters a culture of accountability and mutual respect.

However, one policy you can and should include in your employee handbook is an email and electronic communication policy encompassing chat tools (like Slack or Microsoft Teams). Many employees make the mistake of viewing these channels as regular conversations, spreading detrimental rumors, opinions, and other negative messages. 

The policy should inform employees of the dangers of using email and chat apps for gossip because these messages can accidentally be sent to unintended recipients. A solid email and electronic communication policy should outline these issues, explain employees’ privacy expectations concerning these methods, and ensure all employees read and understand the policy.

Bottom Line on Handling Gossip in the Workplace

While you may not be able to completely do away with workplace gossip, you can certainly take proactive steps to mitigate its impact. By setting the right tone, addressing issues promptly, and encouraging open communication, your organization can foster a culture of trust and respect. This prevents incidents from blowing up into larger conflicts and boosts morale and productivity.

Contact BlueLion to learn how they can help strengthen your workplace environment at info@bluelionllc.com or 603-818-4131.

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.