To partake in gossip seems to be a fundamental human instinct, probably because our lives are deeply rooted in groups and communities and we depend on these people to survive. Research has found that people spend nearly an hour each day gossiping. Not all of this behind-the-back chat is negative – there are positive forms of gossip and these conversations can be a pleasant distraction from the routine of everyday living. That having been said, negative gossip at work can turn a healthy workplace into a toxic environment.
“Research has found that people spend nearly an hour each day gossiping.”
The type of gossip that stirs up trouble for an organisation is the kind that is caused by ill intentions towards an individual or group. This type of gossip can be harmful to productivity and taint organisational or departmental culture. If ignored, it can ruin professional and personal relationships, get people fired and drive good employees away.
“Exercising strong leadership means learning how to rein in gossip before it impacts an organisation.”
A good leader can stop office gossip in its tracks
Exercising strong leadership means learning how to rein in gossip before it impacts an organisation.
One of the best ways to deal with gossip as a leader is by being a positive role model. Managers who consistently demonstrate integrity will inspire the same from their employees.
- They do not spread rumours and avoid criticising their superiors in front of staff members.
- They stay ahead of the game by communicating with their employees and addressing rumours head-on.
- They set an example with a leadership style built on openness and trust.
Here are five tips to help managers effectively nip workplace gossip in the bud:
1. Maintain an open-door policy
One of the advantages of employing an open door policy is that it can help eliminate rumours and gossip in the workplace. One of the reasons that employees will gossip is that management does not communicate sufficiently with them about what is happening with the organisation. Encouraging lower-level employees to communicate with their managers can do away with much of the gossip and negative rumours in the company.
One of the reasons that employees will gossip is that management does not communicate sufficiently with them about what is happening with the organisation.
2. Quickly provide clear and candid information
Avoid withholding information and rather create an environment of transparency and trust. Nothing gets the rumour mill working faster than silence from management on a controversial issue. This is particularly true during times of change when workplace gossip tends to spread like wildfire.
3. Address workplace gossip without delay
Whether the rumour circulating is about the organisation or a particular employee, do not stand back to see if this negative gossip runs its course without intervention. The lasting feelings created by such gossip are destructive and will fester and lower morale, disrupting employee engagement. Take action immediately to address the issue at the source of the gossip. This will help employees feel safe and supported in their work environment and stay focused on their jobs.
4. Share praise equally
When management exhibits a tendency to favour particular staff members over others, hurtful rumours are likely to follow, born of resentment. Conversely, workplace gossip about individual employees is less likely to occur when everyone feels that their work is appreciated. Show your staff that you value collaboration by praising everyone equally for the roles they play in helping the team meet its goals.
6. Clarify individual roles
Disagreements and jockeying for position can result from team members not fully understanding the role each team member plays in a project. Be explicit when you assign duties, and make sure everyone is aware of the chain of command. This will help avoid squabbles that give rise to negative gossip, while also enhancing productivity.
Interesting research findings: Everyone gossips
In 2019, researchers at University of California–Riverside analysed the conversations of 467 research participants who each wore portable recorders that picked up bits of their conversations for two to five days. The research assistants counted conversation as gossip if it was about someone not present. These snippets were then analysed. The study concluded that “gossip is ubiquitous” – everyone gossips. Among the results researchers found:
- almost three-quarters of gossip was neutral;
- younger people engage in more negative gossip than older adults;
- negative gossip (604 instances) was twice as prevalent as positive (376);
- extraverts gossip far more frequently than introverts;
- women gossip more than men, but only in neutral, information-sharing, gossip;