Gossip in the Workplace

How to curb excessive office chatter.

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Thursday, Mar 14, 2024

It’s only natural for employees to get to know each other. In fact, it’s great for business if your staff members get along.

But over time, during idle hours or through casual conversation around the water cooler, office gossip can start to rear its ugly head.

The bad news is it’s a toxic part of working life. And it can have a knock-on effect for your business.

Gossip at work can ruin productivity, spread paranoia, and hinder your ongoing success.

So, in this guide we’ll take a look at how you can stamp out needless conversation to steer clear of any trouble.

Gossiping co-workers

Your employees do have freedom of speech at work, But the problem is idle chitchat can sometimes turn nasty.

If staff members resort to gossiping, it can get malicious.

The intent of your employees isn’t always to stir up trouble. But chatter does have a habit of invading other employees’ privacy.

For example, you hear on the grapevine news about the business’s future, if someone is getting fired, or rumours about how Friday night drinks went wrong.

Despite the potential for trouble, you must remember that there’s such a thing as harmless discussions between staff members.

Playful conversation can benefit your organisation. You do want your staff members to get along, after all.

And if you can build positive relationships that helps colleagues bond, then that’s only a good thing for your business.

This makes it important to maintain a balance between fun discussion and conversations that damage reputations.

This is because gossip often takes a story, or partial truth, and creates unrealistic and damaging speculation.

Yakking employees can:

  • Destroy trust levels.
  • Lower office morale.
  • Damage other employees’ feelings.
  • Create conflict.
  • Undermine your authority and credibility.
  • Lead to disciplinary action.

Your busy senior staff can remain oblivious to problems. Managers gossiping in the workplace can only ever make the matter worse.

And if there’s any way to ruin your company culture, it’s with managers who don’t take control of the situation.

So, how can you go about making sure you stop malicious gossip in the workplace?

Setting up a policy

You can take charge with a gossip in the workplace policy—lay this out in your company handbook. There you can explain the problems disruptive conversation causes and why you don’t tolerate it.

In your policy, you should:

  • Define what you mean by gossip—make it clear that you won’t, for example, tolerate discussion that undermines other employees.
  • Outline topics that are off limits (such as salaries, bonuses, or political discussion). This can range from critical remarks or any other comments that can come across as bullying.
  • Explain the consequences of ignoring the policy. It can result in disciplinary charges, so staff should know the seriousness of breaching your regulations.

Business transparency is what you should aim for. Ensure your managers encourage openness and welcome perspectives from all team members.

In short, if you have a friendly company culture that embraces tolerance, then you minimise the chances of miscommunication.

And what if that doesn’t work?

So, you’ve got your employee gossip policy in place. Nothing can go wrong, right?

And… employees are still talking behind each other’s backs with wild abandon, right? Sometimes stopping gossip in the workplace is tricky.

It’s time for a proactive approach. Because the reality is you can’t cut out the chatter in its entirety.

All it takes is a lazy Friday afternoon and tongues can wag—before you know it, one employee is the target of a malicious rumour.

Dealing with gossip in the workplace can involve personal development opportunities. Your options include:

  • Training: You can train your managers or your employees about the negative impacts. In the long-term, this can reduce the chances of it occurring as your organisation makes it clear how damaging it is.
  • Team building activities: To stop gossip, you need staff members to get along. Activities that require cooperation are an effective option, as they encourage employees to get to know, and trust, each other.
  • Regular supervision: One to one meetings once a week, as well as team meetings, are useful—your team can air any concerns they have. This can be part of your openness policy to encourage a better business culture.
  • Provide warnings: Hand out verbal and written warnings to anyone who continues to gossip. You can also fire someone if they continue to breach these rules, which makes a clear statement about your intent.
  • Open plan office: Finally, consider an open plan office. If your staff members are in secretive alcoves, then it’s a breeding ground for idle chitchat. But if everyone is in full view of each other, then you can benefit from more open communication possibilities.

When should you take action?

If you think the effects of gossip in the workplace are getting out of hand, then you can take action. This is in the event an employee’s actions are:

  • Hurting other employees’ feelings.
  • Demotivating employees.
  • Creating absence days as employees struggle with anxiety.
  • Disrupting your business.

If any of the above are taking place, then you can step in with the appropriate actions. Gossip at work is harassment. So, you have various options available to stamp it out.

You can choose a written or verbal warning. Or, if the situation demands it, you can begin disciplinary proceedings.

Of course, the most extreme action you can take is to fire the person.

Treat this as a last resort, as you should always try to restore positive relationships in your business before letting staff members go.

Need more help?

Looking to establish a no gossip policy? We can help. Get in touch today for expert advice: 0800 783 2806.

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