Gossiping in the Workplace: Everything You Should Know

Workplace gossip is not always malicious. It is frequently fueled by easy fascination on the part of workers that are concerned about rumored changes at the business or roughly allegations regarding their colleagues. No matter the motive, it may slowly seep throughout a company, damaging reputations, creating conflict and possibly leading to legal actions brought by those who feel they have been wronged by workplace chatter.

Here is bad things about gossiping in workplace

Hurts Reputations

It doesn’t matter if the rumors about someone are true, once they’re expressed they forever alter how other employees see that person. She may be excluded from projects or treated unfairly or rudely by colleagues who believe the gossip that she is dishonest or disloyal, for example. If the gossip spreads to people outside the company, such as clients or other people in the industry, she may be unable to work with customers, do business with people from other companies or get another job.

Damages Credibility

An employee who gossips potentially suffers as much as the subjects of her gossip. Her credibility will gradually erode in the eyes of her colleagues, and she’ll gain a reputation as someone who can’t be trusted. In the “Forbes” article “The Fastest Way to Kill Corporate Culture,” leadership adviser Mike Myatt describes workplace gossip as “the tool of insecure, rank amateurs.” The gossiper’s colleagues, especially if they hold senior positions or have more experience, may perceive her as someone inexperienced and unprofessional and may no longer take her seriously.

Destroys Morale

Gossip not only destroys the relationships between the employees doing the gossiping and those being gossiped about, it can also shatter trust and create conflict throughout the team. In a workplace where gossip is pervasive, employees may not trust anyone and may feel uncomfortable working closely with colleagues for fear they’ll learn something about them and use it to spread rumors. This creates a corporate culture characterized by an “everyone for herself” atmosphere rather than one in which employees freely share ideas and work together for the good of the company.

Inhibits Productivity

Workplace gossip distracts employees from their job duties, leading to a corporate culture in which employees spend more time huddled around the water cooler than they do closing deals. Eventually, the quality of the products or services the company offers may deteriorate because employees aren’t devoting their energies to maintaining and improving the company brand. As productivity plummets, it will be more difficult for the company to stay competitive.The company may miss opportunities to land new clients, develop new products or expand into new markets simply because employees weren’t paying attention to these possibilities.

Could Lead to Legal Action

Employees who feel their careers and reputations have been damaged by workplace gossip might sue the company and their colleagues for defamation, harassment or other offenses. They can use the workplace gossip to support their claims, especially if they can find co-workers who will testify about what was said or if they can acquire emails or other correspondence documenting the rumors.

Effects of Workplace Gossip

The effects of workplace gossip are mostly negative, especially for the person who is the subject of the gossip. The only way to reduce the negative effects of workplace gossip is to help silence it.

Destroys Trust and Lowers Morale

When an employee confides in another co-worker, the conversation should remain confidential. If words spoken in confidence become the subject of workplace gossip, it can result in co-workers losing trust in each other. When an employee is the subject of workplace gossip, it can also negatively affect her morale. She might eventually decide to quit her job, which adds to an increase in company turnover.

Hinders Teamwork and Productivity

Gossip in the workplace can put a strain on teamwork and employee productivity. When someone becomes the subject of workplace gossip, it can become difficult for her to work with co-workers, specifically the ones who are participating in the gossip. This creates a toxic working environment with a lack of unity. If the employee is too focused on the gossip, she may not be able to focus on her work, and productivity suffers.

Disciplinary Action

Many companies have confidentiality clauses that prevent employees, and especially members of management from disclosing sensitive information to others. If a supervisor or manager discloses confidential information about an employee that contributes to workplace gossip, they can face disciplinary action or termination. Some companies have even enacted zero-tolerance policies on workplace gossip. Violating this policy can also result in disciplinary action. If an employee perceives the workplace gossip as harassment or defamation of character, she could file a lawsuit against the company.

Minimizing the Gossip

If you are approached with workplace gossip, set an example for others to follow. Don’t participate in the gossip by leaving room or change the subject whenever the gossip starts. This sends the message to others that the behavior is unacceptable. Eventually, your co-workers might take the hint. If the gossip continues, don’t be afraid to tell your supervisor or boss about the situation. By doing so, management can address the matter in a way that promotes a healthy working environment.

Can an Employer Fire Someone Who Is Involved in Gossip About the Boss?

Gossip may turn even the most collegial workplace into a toxic environment if staff and leaders don’t address water-color opinions, exaggerations and false accusations in the instant they get known. The grapevine can destroy the authenticity and careers of both the individual spreading the gossip and the individual who’s the topic of office gossip. Sometimes, a worker’s career can be brought to a screeching stop or perhaps destroyed if she is terminated for gossiping about her boss or anybody else in the company.

Employment at Will

Most private sector employers reserve the right to terminate the working relationship at any time, for any reason or for no reason, with or without advance notice. This means the employer doesn’t need to prove the office gossip is spreading erroneous information about her boss. Just the fact that an employee is disrupting productivity and potentially damaging her boss’s reputation is enough to let her go, without warning. The only time an employer can’t exercise its rights under the at-will doctrine is when there’s an employment agreement or if there’s a union contract that prohibits at-will termination.

Business Philosophy

During new-employee orientation, a human resources department staffer or a seasoned employee from the same department usually explains the importance of corporate philosophy. For some companies, the philosophy is simple: mutual respect, sound business principles and a commitment to loyalty and workplace ethics. Gossip flies in the face of all of those tenets, making it difficult to concentrate on organizational goals, such as becoming a profitable business venture. For this reason alone, an employee who engages in gossip about anyone can be fired for ignoring the principles to which she agreed when she accepted the job. Bosses aren’t entitled to any more respect as human beings than staff just because they have a higher position or rank. Office gossip is disruptive no matter who’s the target or the instigator.

Hands Tied

In some cases, an employee is accused of gossiping about her boss or rumored to be badmouthing her supervisor, yet it’s not clear whether she was merely sharing secondhand information or actually conjuring up untruthful statements intended to be hurtful. This is a perfect opportunity for the HR department to get involved, either through counseling the employee about respectful behavior or explaining the consequences of spreading malicious statements about her supervisor — or anyone for that matter. This is when an employer’s hands might be tied, at least until HR can determine the source of the information and the employee’s intent. The employee probably shouldn’t be terminated until HR determines the root of the workplace gossip and the role that employee had in spreading it.

Gossiping Employees

If the employer finds out that one employee is involved, chances are there are other employees involved because gossip isn’t really gossip unless it spreads. Assuming the other employees can be identified, it’s a good idea to meet with the entire staff to discuss how gossip affects the workplace. Before the company simply fires everyone involved, see if the message conveyed during the staff meeting has any effect on workplace gossip. And don’t include the boss in the meeting; it could make him feel as if he needs to defend his honor.

Example

Avoid firing an employee based on hearsay because that only makes the company culpable for relying on information that might not be true. This is counterproductive behavior at its best. The employee obviously is not going to report herself to the HR office and say that she’s been gossiping about her boss. Therefore, don’t terminate the employee to make an example of her or to show other employees what happens when an employee talks bad about the boss. It might quell the gossip for a while, but it won’t eliminate the behavior or improve morale among employees.

Methods for Dealing With a Workplace Gossip

For Managers

Managers have a variety of ways for handling a gossip in the workplace. When approached with gossip, managers must “lead by example” and halt the conversation immediately. Managers must clearly say that gossip, harmless or otherwise, is not tolerated in any department. If the story-spreader is dentified, managers must speaking to the individual privately to explain the potential for damage to others, as well as the harm to her own reputation. If gossip persists, management must take firm action, especially if the gossip is interfering with team morale, effectiveness and productivity.

For Employees

Employees can help to stop gossip in the workplace, too. In fact, employees are often more effective at stopping gossip than management, simply because they are on the same playing field. Employees engaging in a “no-gossip” policy are most effective, as they prevent a gossip from reeling them into the conversation. Employees concerned about gossip can report the issue to their supervisors for further action. In most cases, management is not even aware of a gossiping problem. Therefore, speaking up ensures a resolution before the gossip gets out of hand.

Create an Open Communication Policy

One of the most popular topics of workplace gossip is speculation about the future of the company or of key employees. Instead of letting employees guess, the Florida International University’s Employee Assistance Department suggests creating an open communication policy. By providing employees with regular official updates, companies can stop conjecture and rumors before they start.

No-Tolerance Policy

Companies that create a strict no-tolerance policy about gossip in the workplace have more control over gossiping employees than companies without an official policy. According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, creating a policy in the employee handbook regarding gossip in the workplace is imperative for controlling gossipers. If employees violate this policy, they face the consequences outlined in their employee handbook, including the possibility of warnings, suspension or termination.

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