Work Shouldn’t Hurt: Dealing With Workplace Gossip

Because of the economy, people are edgy about their status at work… more insecure, and this can lead to gossiping about their co-workers.  A study by the American Society for Training and Development that 21 percent of people say they are “frequent participants” in workplace gossip, and 64 percent say they gossip at work “sometimes.” An estimate by the U.S. Department of Labor found that the cost of negativity in the workplace is around $3 billion annually. Here are some ways to eliminate work gossip or at least reduce it slightly.

Stop the Talk:

  • If a person is gossiping about a co-worker, defend the co-worker and the praise the work they do in the office.
  • Change the subject to work-related conversation.
  • Openly communicate. Gossip is usually spread because of misunderstandings or fears about what’s going on in the workplace. If you’re in a management position, hold weekly meetings or send daily e-mails to employees that explain what’s happening in the office. Those updates can help reduce rumors and gossip.
  • Set the tone: be a leader. Do not engage in this practice.

If you are the subject of workplace gossip, you can confront the person spreading the gossip privately and ask them to stop. However, the person spreading the gossip may continue to gossip even after a confrontation. Also, it may be hard to find out who actually started the rumors.  No need to delve too deeply into this.  It is important to learn to quickly address such problems and move on.

Another approach to workplace gossip advocated by author Rudy Simone is more indirect. The individual who is the subject of workplace gossip could address rumors anonymously when there are a large group of employees around, like in the workplace lunchroom. Among the group of employees, the subject of gossip should remind the employees that the rumors being spread are untrue, hurtful and lead to mistrust in the workplace. If the gossip still hasn’t stopped and becomes disruptive to work, the subject of the gossip should tell their manager of their human resources department so they can help resolve the situation.

Work can be stressful enough without worrying about rumors being spread. A survey conducted by the staffing firm Randstad USA and Harris Interactive found that 60 percent of more than 1,500 respondents said workplace gossip is the most negative part of their job.  Confronting gossip and even stopping gossip in the workplace can make the workplace more productive, more open and a more pleasant environment for all employees.

Learn more about reducing barriers in Workplace Diversity: The TEAM Advantage ©, our online training designed to enhance high performing teams in a diverse workplace. To request information click here.

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About Bobby Childers

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2 Responses to Work Shouldn’t Hurt: Dealing With Workplace Gossip

  1. Jeff Dickson says:

    I’ve recently been a victim of a workplace rumour. I recently switched departments and I was accused of ‘sabotaging’ operations in my former department. I only learned of this after being called to the board room and being informed of this by the HR rep. The rep admitted that she had no proof of the alleged ‘sabotage’. I was told that I’d ‘better watch what I say’ and that I could consider myself ‘warned.’ I have, in the past, expressed interest in advancing in the company, and I’m concerned that this rumour is the result of professional jealousy on the part of co-workers. I feel this had damaged my reputation with management. What should I do?

    • Hi Jeff, thank you for reaching out to us. It sounds like that is most definitely a difficult situation. I have put together a few options and ideas for you:

      • While we understand your concerns about gossip, if there is no basis for the rumor it is likely to become “old news” fast. The truth has a funny way of “hanging together” – or not.
      • In your initial meeting, it sounds like you were caught off guard by this accusation. You might consider going to talk to your manager in your former department to find out if he/she is aware of this, share your concerns and ask for advice. The manager may be willing to have a follow-up meeting with you and the HR rep to vouch for you.
      • If not, you may want to consider requesting a follow-up meeting with the HR rep to share your concerns about your future career being affected by a rumor which could not be substantiated, but for which it seems you were given a verbal warning.

      Good luck Jeff, and we wish you well.

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