Workplace Gossip

A workplace provides a social context which makes coming to work every day more satisfying and enjoyable.  But when social media is added to face-to-face socialising and internal email systems, that social context extends much further than people chatting around the water cooler.  With today’s accessibility to instant information it is hard to believe that less than 15 years ago few employees had work email addresses or mobile phones.

According to a study undertaken by Integrated Research and Advisory Services & Employability (IRASE):  ‘Between the start of the world and 2003 there were approximately five exabytes of information created.  We now create five exabytes of information every two days’.

That’s a lot of Information and, let’s face it, we all know it’s not all work related.

Is social chatter such a bad thing?

Social chatter and general information sharing tends to bring people together through common  interests and attraction.  It builds morale, contributes to teamwork, and fosters cooperation for sharing and disseminating work information.

In a healthy work environment, it’s a social tool that helps people and companies work better together.

But when social chatter transforms into office gossip it becomes an unhealthy elephant in the room.  Why?  Because office gossip is destructive:  it creates a negative force within an organisation, resulting in strained relationships and breaking down trust.  It can also break down the credibility of an individual or a group, resulting in isolation, workplace division, loss of reputation, increased stress and, in extreme cases, may result in lengthy and costly legal pursuits.

Whether gossip concerns the management of the organisation, or topics around race, religion, sexual preference and politics, it will all come to a sticky end.

So how does workplace gossip start in the first place?

Often, the rumour mill gathers momentum from issues surrounding management.  Social chatter might generate a suggestion of possible organisational restructuring, promotions, relocation, downsizing, or even friction at board level.  Despite it appearing harmless to begin with, some gossip may, in fact, build from an intensely personal or discriminatory starting point, based on deeply embedded belief systems and prejudicial values.

When social chatter develops into malicious gossip and rumour mongering without the true facts being communicated, it becomes a belief.  Hard earned trust is soon replaced with divisive doubt.

This insidiousness feeds on itself through mis-information, jealousies, fear of change,  or even pure malice.

How can you best handle office gossip?

Office gossip feeds on innuendo, falsehoods, and misunderstandings, but it has the propensity for these falsehoods to become credible if it is not quashed.

Communication up, down and across your organisation is vital.

Early, open communication will eliminate gossip from the start.   In essence, if your organisation is undergoing change you can never give too much information.  Positive communication provided by management through , meetings, emails, a reinforcing message from the CEO, or site visits by key people in the organisation are just some of the ways you can provide facts about the organisation, and stop gossip before it starts.

The message needs to provide relevant, timely, and truthful information. The source must be credible. This way everyone is ‘in the know’.  Trust is established through transparency.

Savvy employers address office gossip through policies by setting well-defined, legally compliant policy on office gossip, and providing guidance and boundaries through:

  • Code of Conduct Policy;
  • Grievance Policy;
  • No Gossip Policy;
  • Discrimination, Harassment and Bullying Policy.

Zero tolerance policy on office gossip

A recent poll from recruitment marketing firm Employment Office has revealed that most employees don’t appreciate office gossip.  In fact, a surprising 63 percent feel that a colleague has taken gossip too far.

By actively creating a culture that doesn’t tolerate gossip, you stand to gain considerable operational savings rather than dealing with costly effects such as loss of morale, staff turnover, and possible legal action.

Looking for further information, resources and help?

Ensuring your workplace is a place where all workers can feel safe as they go about their everyday jobs is paramount.  Gain up-to-date expert advice on these policies and what they mean for you as an employer.  Expert guidance from a impartial professional is a vital safeguard in protecting your business.

  • Ensure policies are in place to reflect management’s no-tolerance to office gossip; and
  • Protect your business with proven guidance from a HR consultancy.

For more information on how to manage potentially damaging, destructive and expensive issues in your workplace, please contact us at Head2Head HR.