Posted on / Updated on / in Blog & HR Policies & Management & Monitoring Employees /

“Did you hear what happened in Bob’s performance review? I think he’s going to get fired.”

“Can you believe that Julie wore a moo-moo to work the other day? She has to be pregnant.”

This is a sampling of what can be heard around an office on a typical day. It’s just office gossip – what’s the big deal?

Office gossip is a huge deal.

And we’re not just saying that because we’re a bunch of HR Rule Followers. Office gossip can not only cause a hostile work environment, but it can lead to harassment claims and even EEOC discrimination lawsuits.

In the second installment of our Business Etiquette series, we’re talking about Office Gossip. As a person in a management position, you want to create a company culture where people feel comfortable enough to talk amongst themselves, but being too lax when it comes to “spreading unreliable information” can set your company up for failure. Management needs to follow these 5 rules when it comes to dealing with office gossip.

Integrity HR’s Business Etiquette Rules On How To Deal With Office Gossip

Rule #1 – Define Gossip

First, we think it is important to define “Gossip.” Before you outlaw something, your employees need to be clear on what it actually is! Gossip is “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.”

There are two important parts of the definition we want to highlight – the fact that gossip includes talking about OTHER people and talking about details that are NOT confirmed to be TRUE.

And of course, any time you partake in gossiping with or about co-workers or within the office building, you are guilty of “Office Gossip.” (Note: You don’t actually have to be IN the office for it to count as office gossip. Simply talking negatively about co-workers outside of the office or with another co-worker at a social event qualifies as office gossip.) Now that we have defined “Office Gossip,” we have to figure out what to do about it!

Rule #2 – Let Your Expectations Be Known

When it comes to the workplace, stop the gossip. If you can put a stop to the gossip, the rumors, the cliques and the mean spirited behavior that can take place among colleagues, you will eliminate a good number of the headaches both you and your employees face, and improve morale dramatically. Easier said than done, of course, but the first step is to let your employees know your expectations.

Rather than coming down with a heavy fist and saying that gossip will not be tolerated and anyone caught engaging will be disciplined, so on and so on, it’s important that you instead make your attack against gossip by creating a culture that will not allow it to thrive. Let your employees know your expectations and set the example.  Set the parameters for what type of communication is acceptable.  One of our favorite sets of rules is:

1.    Is it true?

(Know the facts of any information you share. If you haven’t fact-checked the matter for yourself, avoid talking about it with other co-workers. You can always go to the individual and ask them for yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, either because of your comfort level with that person or because of the subject matter, you probably shouldn’t be nosing into the matter at all.)

2.    Is it kind?

(If it seems like something outrageous or something that you wouldn’t want getting around about you, then don’t share, don’t judge, and don’t assume. Remember – if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.)

3.    Is it necessary?

(Another way to word this is – ‘Is it helpful?’ In most circumstances, there is nothing productive about gossiping. The less time co-workers spend spreading gossip about each other, the more time they can use to build trusting, professional relationships – in turn leading to better job performance.)

Tell your employees that before they say something to another employee or about another employee, they should measure what they are about to say against this three key test. If it passes with a Yes to all three, then it’s fine to say. If it doesn’t, they should strongly reconsider.  Also be sure to point out that this test applies to business information, too, because even if it’s related to the Company, if it fails this test, then it’s just office gossip.

Then the number one thing to do is make sure that you, and all your managers follow your guidelines. Failure to do so on the part of any member of management will not only undermine what you are trying to implement for your company, but will actually make it worse.

To make sure everyone is on the same page, we suggest holding a business etiquette/respectful workplace training session for all employees. While you may think the majority of employees know business etiquette, the reality is that they don’t. And if you have a few star pupils in the office, then a little refresher never hurt! By going over what behaviors you except at your office, you should let your employees know that office gossip (and other disrespectful behaviors) will not be tolerated.

Rule #3 – Be Specific About Office Conversations That Are Off Limits

But everyone else is talking about it!” Don’t even get us started…

It is important to be specific about the topics that should not be discussed at the office. Let your employees know that they do not want to be the source of the gossip at your workplace. They will be deemed the “office busybody” and this will be will be detrimental to their career.

Here are some taboo topics that should be avoided:

  • Criminal behaviors
  • Alcoholism or drug addiction
  • Infidelity
  • Personal medical information
  • Sexuality
  • And anything the general public would find reprehensible.

Remind you employees – once they decide to participate in a questionable conversation, they will come off looking just as guilty as the one who initiated the gossip.

Let’s be clear: We’re not suggesting employers try to prevent employees from discussing (even negatively) their terms and conditions of employment.  Doing so would get you in hot water with the NLRB. Just remember – You cannot constrain employees’ freedom to discuss workplace conditions! (That does NOT count as office gossip!)

Rule #4 – Share Strategies To Minimize Office Gossip

Let’s be honest – office gossip is never going to completely disappear. We don’t live in a perfect world! So you need to share with your employees what to do when someone shares gossip.

There are ways to respond without seeming off-putting or anti-social. Here are some strategies to share that will minimize gossip. Tell your employees to:

  • Remove yourself from the conversation; tell the gossiper that you have to get back to your desk.
  • Politely change the subject.
  • Don’t repeat gossip you overhear.
  • Directly state, “I’m not comfortable talking about __________.”

Rule #5 – Promote A Positive Work Environment

It is very important for those in a managerial role to promote a positive atmosphere. You set the tone for the office! Stay positive and stay focused. Make it a point to be courteous to others in your office, but that doesn’t mean you have to join in on the water cooler gossip session. Be mindful and remain positive at all times. Try and become known as the manager with the supporting and optimistic attitude who only shares things that build up others.

Employees will take notice and hopefully, start to mimic your attitude. Remember – Negativity is Contagious! So combat it with a healthy dose of positivity at the office.

Let’s Review:

Integrity HR’s Business Etiquette Rules On How To Deal With Office Gossip

  1. Define Gossip
  2. Let Your Expectations Be Known
  3. Be Specific About Office Conversations That Are Off Limit
  4. Share Strategies To Minimize Office Gossip
  5. Promote A Positive Work Environment

The best way to cut down on office gossip is to spread the word! (No, not around the water cooler.) As we mentioned before, we believe holding a training session on business etiquette is the best way to get your message across. And it just so happens that Integrity HR can conduct those training sessions for you. To learn more about our training services, click here or contact us today!

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about the author: Amy Letke

Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success.

currently there's 3 comment(s) Would you like to add your thoughts?

  • Denise White

    commented on March 27, 2014 at 5:16 am

    Great article

  • hee seung lee

    commented on April 2, 2014 at 1:10 am

    Thank you, Tracy! 🙂

  • pranit patil

    commented on November 3, 2017 at 12:51 am

    Worth reading article,as employee if you’re successful, minimizing gossip can create a more pleasant working environment, yes it is true that you can’t control what others talk about privately, but you can steer them away from gossip while they’re talking with you. Thanks for sharing!