Employee gossip in the workplace is a very common issue despite not having any real positive effect in the workplace. In the worst case, a small group of workplace gossipers can seriously impede a company’s morale. Even in its comparatively harmless case, it’s a huge time waster and can spread faster than Covid-19 at a freedom rally.

Never waste valuable time, or mental peace of mind, on the affairs of others—that is too high a price to pay. —Robert Greene

Dangers of Gossip

from: “Passing the Word: Toward a Model of Gossip and Power in the Workplace”

Ideas vary as to what is gossip exactly. Some people think it means malicious talk about someone behind that person’s back. Some believe gossip must be untrue tales, while others think it can include truthful content.

We don’t assume to have all the answers, but here are a few illustrative test questions:

  1. Does the chitchat rejoice in the misfortune of others? Yep, gossip.
  2. Does it have a negative emotional charge or seem to perpetuate conflict or negativity? Gossip again.
  3. Does it hurt or damage the one being spoken of? Would you say it in front of this person's face?
  4. Is it an unsubstantiated rumor about another employee's work situation (a promotion or demotion)? Uh-huh, gossip.

Even good intentioned gossip brings unanticipated negative consequences. If one of your co-workers didn’t pay their fair-share during a split-the-bill lunch a couple of times, you might be tempted to warn other co-workers: Be careful having lunch with Caligula. It happened again: he ordered more than me but only paid half the bill.

Or, if you feel someone at our company is not a team player, you may feel compelled to let other coworkers know that this person has a reputation for stealing credit or whatever.

In both cases, this kind of positive intent has negative consequence for the team. We encourage engaging in positive and productive ways of dealing with such situations; such as, having the courage to give your lunch buddy actionable feedback with positive intent in the moment so they can improve their behavior. Maybe it was only a misunderstanding. Also, we believe everyone should given a fair opportunity to develop relationships with co-workers free from the stigma of past problems.