Top Tips for Managing Workplace Gossips

BY Kathy Crosett
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Workplace gossip. You know it’s a problem. Your employees are saying one thing through your organization’s communication channels. And, they’re saying something entirely different, and often hurtful, through the informal channels. Managers need to monitor what’s happening in the gossip channel. It’s also key for them to screen out candidates whose penchant for gossip is likely to make them toxic hires.

The Research

Over the past few years, academic researchers have pointed out that gossip has long existed in all organizations. The tendency to whisper about others and about what is going on grows because there’s a desire to have information. In fact, not all gossip is negative. Your team members are also likely to whisper about whether the company is being bought or sold and how that event might improve their positions.

Researchers explain that the role of gossip is “to inform, to entertain, and to influence norm-​enforcing mechanism in groups.” For example, if everyone in the office is vegetarian and a new employee eats a ham sandwich for lunch every day, gossip will start. The participants will talk about the new employee’s eating habits, often until the individual changes their behavior. 

Gossip has been found to play a role as a safety valve by providing a means for stress relief and emotional support,” researchers say. Most people gossip in the workplace. While gossiping may be an informal communication channel, it’s the manager's job to track what's going on. 

The Manager’s Role

Employees who spread gossip about a co-​worker are engaging in behavior that closely mimics bullying. And that's when a manager needs to step in. In a Robert Half column, editors remind us that these employees are undermining their own credibility. Once people know an employee is a gossip, they have to wonder if that person is spreading rumors about them. Managers should remind gossips that they are hurting their reputations.

Good managers don't stop there. An out-​of-​control gossip mill means your formal communication channels aren’t working properly. Hold more meetings and stay positive. Focus on how employees are meeting goals and solicit their input on which tasks they’d like to tackle going forward. Do not engage in any gossip. By exhibiting the kind of behavior you want to see in the organization, you can influence the culture in a positive way.

You’ll likely never entirely eliminate gossip though. That’s why researchers say that “gossip networks can thus serve as a diagnostic tool for managers who are attempting to understand the current state of the workforce.”

Avoid Hiring A Gossip 

As a hiring manager, you know there are certain types of employees that can make or break an organization. While everyone indulges in a bit of gossip now and then, some individuals tend toward toxicity. These are individuals who measure their self-​worth by the reaction they get when they reveal gossip-​worthy details to co-​workers. These folks also exaggerate and jump to conclusions, ultimately damaging company culture. These are also the kind of people you don't want to hire. The latest feature in SalesFuel COACH, Toxicity Indexing, will help managers screen out candidates that score high for a tendency to gossip.