How to Handle Gossip in the Workplace

Andrew Moran
Andrew Moran

Business and Finance Expert

Business woman gossiping to her male colleague
Lolostock /

Did you hear? Nancy from Accounting is dating the chief financial officer’s son, and it seems that she is getting a promotion as the department head. Yeah, well, did you also hear about Theodore from Legal? It seems he has been caught snorting cocaine in his office, and rumour has it that he could be canned at any moment. What a workplace it is!

No office in the world is immune to the vicious rumours, malicious gossip and the various negative effects of gabbing about other people. While everyone enjoys hearing a bit of chatter about the boss every now and then, most decent folk cannot stand to listen to their colleagues platter on about something that isn’t their business all the time.

Indeed, it might seem like innocent fun at first, but the longer it lingers, the worse it will be for your business. Why? Because gossip in the workplace can and will hurt any number of parties, especially if it leads to harassment. Moving forward, it is essential to implement policies to foster an environment of respect, understanding, camaraderie and wellbeing.

There’s an abundance of ways to rein in the gossip. But first you need to ask:

Do You Have a Problem?

Every business needs to expect a certain amount of gossip. It’s just human nature to chinwag around the watercooler about the latest hire or the owner’s wife. You don’t think cavemen passed around elaborate rumours about one of their neighbours in Cave D as they hunted down wild animals? It’s in our evolutionary DNA!

But there is a whisper, and then there is an officewide epidemic.

So, how do you know something has gotten out of hand and requires your immediate attention? Here are a few things to watch out for:

  • gossip has impacted the overall workplace and disrupted productivity levels
  • employee morale is down, and workers have complained about uncouth behaviour
  • some workers are disengaged and are routinely absent from their desks
  • cliques are formed, and you see others isolated from their peers.

You would think that some of your personnel would have outgrown their high school demeanour. Unfortunately, there are many people who are teenagers for their entire lives.

How Do You Stamp it Out?

Business owners, human resources, supervisors and even low-level staffers do not need to sit idly by and allow the gossip to continue. Gossip only breeds toxicity, and with the way the economy, labour market and competition are, you don’t need this. Simply put: you need to stamp it out as quickly as possible.

Here are 10 things you can do:

1. Review Company Policy

Every jurisdiction has its own series of codes and regulations that insist companies somehow maintain a company policy that tackles issues surrounding harassment, bullying and other matters that impact workers. If you have one, then it is time to perform another review with the team to ensure everyone understands the rules and consequences of deplorable manners. If you don’t have one, then, well, it is time to put together a corporate policy that handles this area.

2. Institute a Zero-Tolerance Policy

At first, a lot of private enterprises would give a person who violated company policy a second or third chance. However, if you have had to rein in employees on several occasions over the years pertaining to workplace gossip, then perhaps it is time to institute a zero-tolerance policy.

For instance, if you have conducted an exhaustive investigation of the allegations brought to your office, then your overall firm would be better served if you terminated the individual. There is no place for the perpetual gossipers in any corporate venture because they threaten the livelihood of others.

3. Observe the Office Landscape

It is time to put on your fedora hat, grab your flask of scotch, stimulate your grey cells and do a little bit of sleuth work.

Or, put in another way, you need to observe the office landscape to determine how much gossip is really going on, who is doing it and what it is doing to the fabric of the workplace. Indeed, it will take some time away from your other duties, but it is a worthwhile investment to weed out the nincompoops and ensure everyone is happy and treated with respect.

Remember, as the saying goes, a happy worker is a productive worker; stopping gossip in its tracks accomplishes this.

4. Assign More Work to Offenders

Do you have more people spending their time on the company’s time spreading around rumours and chitchatting than getting work done? Well, the solution is obvious: assign more work to those employees. This kills two birds with one stone by eliminating gossip and boosting productivity levels.

If they are swamped with assignments and need to meet plenty of deadlines, then they will have less time – and energy – to walk up to their colleague and say, ‘Hey, did you hear about Alfred? He is supposedly being investigated for embezzlement. Apparently, he stole from the company to give his mistress a fur coat!’.

5. Set an Example

Whether you are an assistant supervisor of handling the mail or you are the chief executive, you can eradicate gossip by setting an example. This could entail everything from refusing to reveal personal information (see below) to not participating in these foul conversations.

By being a specimen of respect for your colleagues, you will potentially encourage others to follow suit. As the saying goes: you cannot change the world, but you can make a dent for a better future.

6. Discourage Participation

Gossip is a coquettish blind mistress. It is enticing to engage in bitter, foul and untrue rumours, which could stem from a lack of excitement in your own life. So, how do you combat this Mean Girls Mephistophelean spirit? Here are a few ideas to take advantage of:

  • poke fun at those who gossip, but not directly those who are believed to be the gossipers
  • make a placard of a person who says, ‘If you have nothing nice to say about anyone, come sit next to me!’
  • tell a story about the dangers of gossip
  • hold a corporate event that is meant to build bonds and teamwork.

7. Encourage Positive Gossip

So, have you tried everything to stop workplace gossip in its tracks? Well, why not flip it on its head and encourage positive gossip? This is when you establish a culture where employees are sharing positive remarks, stories and words about each other, clients and even work. This may not be as fun as negative gossip, but it certainly isn’t odious.

This could consist of Frank from Marketing talking about how an intern went above and beyond on a project for a long-time client, working weekends, making constant revisions and always willing to work. This story can be shared by email, social media or by ‘gossip’ around the watercooler.

Positive gossip eventually eviscerates malevolent words, producing a vast array of great effects.

8. Engage with the Perpetrators

Unfortunately, adult signals, hints and suggestions go over the heads of certain people. They need direct communication to stop what it is they’re doing. Otherwise, a wink and a nudge will not suffice; they need discipline.

Simply put: it is important that you engage with the perpetrators if they are either starting or partaking in gossip. You must directly communicate to them that what they are doing violates company policy, hurts the intended target and disregards human decency.

That may not even work sometimes, so the only remedy might be termination.

9. Keep Personal Life Personal

Finally, the only way people at the office can gossip is if you tell intimate details about your life, reveal that you are being selected for a promotion over someone who has been there for 13 years or you are dating a coworker.

You should never tell anyone these things; otherwise, it will spread around like the flu in the middle of winter. You should also encourage everyone to keep their personal lives personal.

By doing this, you do not provide ammunition to the resident gossiper or add fuel to the fire.

10. Hire the Best Employees

You can take a preventive approach to workplace gossip by hiring the best employees. By combing through reference letters, interviewing the applicant and asking their opinions on office environments, you can determine if they are a gossiper or someone who just wants to work and earn a paycheque.

We claim that we detest gossip queens. Yet, if there weren’t a demand for these specialists, then there wouldn’t be a steady supply of these drama entrepreneurs. It’s basic economics – or interoffice politics. On the one hand, we say we don’t like gossip. On the other, we are ready and willing to listen to anything about a colleague who keeps to themselves or an executive who doesn’t divulge too much information regarding their weekends.

Gossip is a disease, and it needs to be disinfected as soon as possible before it infects others. It is up to your company how to best apply the remedies, from issuing stern warning letters to instituting a zero-tolerance policy. You want it gone before it gets too big, like the blob from that old Steve McQueen picture.

How do you handle gossip in the workplace? Join the conversation down below and let us know.