Office gossip can take many forms. While lighthearted banter or upbeat conversations at the workplace help strengthen professional connections, malicious gossip is unhealthy.

What is office gossip?

Gossip at a workplace is the informal communication between colleagues that is focused on someone’s personal, sensitive or private matters. However, office gossip is generally viewed as a negative process.  For example, it can involve rumors, falsehoods, and slanderous statements that are not conducive to building a positive workplace.

Gossip can spread paranoia, ruin work productivity, and hamper motivation levels. Although, gossip is different from harassment, it can be equally malicious and demotivating.

What crosses the line?

As per an Office Pulse study, most office gossip is related to workplace conflicts and specifically about:

  • a co-worker – 71 percent
  • Management Team – 44 percent
  • HR – 20 percent
  • Boss – 34 percent
  • Clients – 31 percent

Office gossip can be very serious if the gossiper has considerable power over the one at the receiving end. At its worst, office gossip can:

  • Hurt feelings
  • Damage reputations
  • Set up colleagues against each other
  • Destroy trust
  • Ruin friendships
  • Lower morale and motivation
  • Spoil the work environment with conflict and tension
  • Increase stress and anxiety
  • Lead to talent loss as employees tend to quit a negative workplace

How does it impact the work environment?

A recent survey suggests that, on average, Americans spend 40 minutes each week gossiping. Both men and women, including bosses, gossip at work, and this often involves other co-workers or office culture. Further, office gossip that is directed at other workers can create cliques that lead to problems as everyone at work is supposed to be on the same team.

Apart from eroding morale, motivation and trust, gossip reduces work productivity. It also increases anxiety as rumors circulate, creates divisiveness among employees, damages reputations and increases attrition rates.

How can employees help minimize negative gossip?

  • Set an example. Every employee can set an example by not engaging in office gossip. Specifically, you can change the topic when gossip starts, walk away or be assertive about not tolerating gossip.
  • Inform your boss. If gossip is getting out of hand, do not hesitate to inform your boss. Management needs to establish a policy on creating and supporting a healthy work environment and a positive work culture.
  • Take a stand. Depending on your workplace policy, you can take the lead in talking to gossip perpetrators. Tactfully demonstrate how their behavior is affecting you and everyone else at work and disrupting work productivity.
  • Encourage positive conversation. Happy workers can share and spread positive stories about culture, customers, and work. Think of instances where you or another employee went above and beyond the normal role to serve a customer.
  • Ignore the gossiper. Gossipmongers will prey and thrive on attention. Be preoccupied and busy with your work and indicate that you are not available for gossip.
  • Create boundaries. Unless you are certain that you can trust a co-worker, avoid sharing personal or sensitive information with them that can act as fuel for gossip.

Deflect the gossip with a positive comment or a compliment for the one being gossiped about. This will effectively stop the gossiper in their tracks.

Check out these additional tips on how to Support a Positive Work Environment.