Challenging Gossip: How to Create a Healthy Workplace

challenge workplace gossip

Gossip is all around us—we live in a dominant culture of whispers, cliques, and drama. Even if gossip is not an active part of your life, we still absorb it in magazine covers, tabloids, friendship circles, and the workplace.

This social engagement is often very hard to avoid, as it has been said that:

“up to two thirds of a conversation make references to an absent third party” 
– (Grosser et al., 2012).

In workplaces, the culture of gossip can be detrimental to the entire workplace community—even for the people who are not being whispered about. It is up the leadership of an organization to address this widespread workplace issue.

 

What Counts as Gossip?

Gossip is defined as any casual form of communication or ‘empty talk,’ and it is usually about an absent third party, and often negative (Altunas et al. 2014, Grosser et al., 2010).

Gossiping in the workplace often arises when formal communication between employers or employees is lacking or dysfunctional (Altunas et al., 2014).

We can gauge whether an organization has strong communication and staff management via the amount of rumor and gossip during times of change; these changes can include promotions, transfers, and intense crises (Farley et al., 2010).

While not all gossip is created equal, most gossip does not serve a community or workplace. What seems like a little remark might be a sign of an issue that needs to be addressed.

 

7 Ways Gossip Impacts the Social Functioning of a Group

  1. It collects and disseminates information about individuals;
  2. It releases withheld emotions via a ‘vent,’ thus serving as an emotional outlet and stress relief;
  3. It creates a sense of cohesion between people in an “in-group” or “out-group” manner;
  4. It establishes a sense of belonging to the “in-group” and encourages socializing;
  5. It establishes a society or organizations norms;
  6. It serves as entertainment and eliminates boredom;
  7. It fulfills the need for self-enhancement for the “gossiper” (Altunas et al., 2014, Grosser et al., 2010).

 

Gossip can have its benefits. As this list demonstrates, it does create strong social bonds between individuals and group solidarity (Altunas et al., 2014). We are social creatures who developed norms as a way to discourage certain behavior and encourage other behavior.

As modern humans, we need to recognize when gossip goes too far. Especially since gossip usually surfaces at the cost of someone else’s social status, reputation, or sense of belonging.

The ramifications of gossip within a workplace are damaging. It can disrupt teamwork, reduce productivity, hurt feelings, diminish morale and damage reputations, and lead to high staff-turnover (Altunas et al., 2014, Grosser et al., 2010).

If somebody does not feel respected or like they belong to workplace culture, they are likely to seek work elsewhere.

At the very minimum, they might continue to exist in that work environment as an unhappy and unproductive team member.

 

What Managers Can Do to Reduce Workplace Gossip

Gossip cannot be eliminated since it is a way that societies enforce expected behavior.

But there are many steps for employers to consider if they want a healthier and happier workplace.

  1. Have clear, frequent and formal meetings to communicate the ongoings within the business

Gossip increases during times of ambiguous change within the workplace. Thus, it is vital to inform employees of new changes and keep the door open for people to express their concerns or opinions (Altunas et al., 2014, Grosser et al., 2010).

Gossip can heighten when employees concerns are not considered, or thoughts are not addressed. For example, “Did you hear that in the meeting? He didn’t even listen to me!” or “I cannot believe they are funding for a new building when really, we need those funds for site visits!”

Everyone’s viewpoints need to be heard with respect. The art of empathetic listening is indeed—an art. Employees want to feel valued and that their concerns will be addressed. Besides, their concerns show that they care about the workplace.

  1. Create a culture of civility

Incivility is the practice of adopting inconsiderate conversations that go against workplace values and norms. Basically, it is when an individual has bad manners and lacks compassion towards other people.

Some examples of incivility are: being condescending towards others, blaming others for your mistakes, having verbal outbursts (even if not at a specific person) and throwing tantrums when you don’t get your way.

These habits can rapidly spread through an organization, and contaminate a space.

To combat incivility, it is important for management to know and advocate for their organization’s values, such as honesty, kindness, respect, etc. Businesses should offer staff training on how to deal with difficult people, manage emotions, and communicate effectively.

It is also important for employers to undergo a thorough background screening check for future employees, to avoid these problems at the very start.

A 360-degree survey (where employees review other employees) can also be beneficial for the management team to review the strengths and weaknesses of each employee’s performance and work together to improve and prosper.

  1. Create a culture of goal-setting and Career development

Employers can motivate employees to set challenging goals that keep them focused and content.

Most people do not like the feeling of stagnation. If employees feel bored or unfulfilled, which is often a sign of a lack of satisfying goals, then they are more inclined to gossip to other employees about the problems they are having in their role or with the organization in general.

First and foremost, communicate with management if any problems arise, not fellow employees. Set realistic goals for staff, review individual performance, and offer opportunities for growth and skillset development.

For example, if there is an employee who expresses interest in managing other people in their department, offer paid training on team management, active listening, or professional development.

Focusing on the strengths of employees will build confidence and contentment. If problematic behavior is discussed, it is vital to comment and focus on the behavior itself, not the individual. This helps ensure that staff members feel like they have a second chance when situations do arise.

  1. Re-allocate roles

It is essential for each employee to have a clear job description, and are allocated their own tasks for their sense of responsibility and accountability. When employees have added responsibilities, make sure to meet privately with them, to discuss how they are handling the new workload.

They may need support, help with goal-setting, and a mentor figure, as their roles shift.

If an important value for your employees to practice flexibility, then make “flexibility in new situations” is part of your value system. Many organizations offer professional trainings to help businesses translate their workplace values into action.

 

Take Home Message

At the end of the day, gossip can never be canceled, but it can be minimized. Compassionate and clear communication channels much of the frustration that fuels gossip, into resolve.

We can all strive to engage in a workplace that is rewarding, productive and fun for employees and employers. Since work is where many people spend the majority of their time, why not strive to make it a pleasant space for all?

After all, as an English historian once said:

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”
– Henry Thomas Buckle

Have you experienced workplace gossip? What else have you found that helps address it? We would love to hear from you in our comments section below.

Related: What is Positive Gossip? + 7 Examples

 

 

Altunas, S., Sahun Altun, D., & Akyil, R.C. (2014). The nurses’ form of organizational communication: What is the role of gossip? Contemporary Nurse, 48(1), 109-116.

Farley, S.D., Timme, D.R., &amp Hart, J.W. (2010) On coffee talk and break-rom chatter: Perceptions of women who gossip in the workplace. The Journal of Psychology, 150(4), 1-8.

Grosser, T.J., Lopez-Kidwell, V., & LaBianca, G. (2010). A social network analysis of positive and negative gossip in organizational life. Group and Organization Management 35(2), 177-212

Grosser, T.J., Lopez-Kidwell, V., & La Bianca, G. (2013) Hearing it through the grapevine: Positive and negative workplace gossip. Organisational Dynamics, 41, 2-61.

About the Author

Justine Curwen is currently a third year psychology student at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. This piece is a version of a research proposal she wrote during the Positive Psychology course at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. This course fueled her passion for concepts such as self-compassion, positive mindsets, and mindfulness practice. She intends on pursuing these interests further in her postgraduate studies.

Comments

  1. Shaannon L.

    I realized I was gossiping and not even realizing it when I would vent a little one time. I didn’t even realize I was holding it in and I thought I was letting it roll off my shoulders. I guess I was mistaken. I didn’t know venting was a form of gossip. I never said anything negative but I should have thought it through and who I was talking to. I will try better

    Reply
  2. Ritesh Sharma

    Yes you are right about this topic, Respect at work is an essential necessity. Yes, it is same for both men and women professionals.
    The fact is that we all want respect but when it comes to others, we try to evaluate them on various aspects,so kudos to you for bringing up this topic.Thank You.

    Reply
  3. M Raj

    Anonymous letters / complaints in any organization is a step creating more damage than gossip. How do we tackle this?

    Reply
  4. Linda Roney

    Justiine this is a substantial and sensitive reflection on workplace gossip. I like the solutions. I like the sound of the other areas that are mentioned as your passions, self-compassion, positive mindset and mindfulness practice. Thank you for your article.

    Reply
    • Catarina Lino

      Hi Linda, we really appreciate your feedback and I agree with you. Justine did an awesome job with the article and the solutions!

      Reply

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