David has over 15 years of supervisory experience and has extensive knowledge of how to handle personnel issues across many areas.
What Is Office Gossip?
Gossip at the workplace is different than when it happens between neighbors or family members; office gossip has a ripple effect that can devastate a work environment by hurting co-worker relationships and lowering morale. If it's harmful enough, it can even cause people to lose their jobs. They say we spend more time with our co-workers than with our family—so why would we want to hurt those that we spend the most time with?
As a supervisor for over 10 years, I've had to deal with my fair share of workplace gossip—and I learned how to put a stop to it.
In This Article
- The signs of workplace gossip.
- How you can avoid workplace gossip.
- How you can stop workplace gossip.
- How a supervisor can stop workplace gossip.
- My experiences with workplace gossip.
The Signs of Workplace Gossip
How do you know if there is gossip in the workplace? Simply look for signs in the office that those around you are involved in gossip. Some of those signs could be:
- Whispered conversations. This is a very common one. If you see two or more people whispering secretly and even looking in the direction of someone, then they could be gossiping. If they look at you, then there is a good chance they are gossiping about you.
- Conversations in another language. This is not meant to be racist, but it's been known that those gossiping may speak in another language, so the person they are talking about won't know. If they do it in front of you, then the gossip could be about you! However, this isn't proof enough. A workplace can't tell someone to speak a different language just because someone thinks they are gossiping. People may make up their own language just to do it!
- Conversations stop when the person being gossiped about comes into the workplace. This is another sign that shows people could be gossiping in the workplace. Does someone who normally talks a lot become dead silent when someone enters the room? If that happens to you, then the gossip could be about you.
- Others treat the person being gossiped about differently. If once close co-workers start to distance themselves from another co-worker, then the gossip could be centered on that person. You may notice your co-workers treating you differently if the gossip is about you.
- Personal conversations stop entirely. If there are no personal conversations in the office, it could mean that co-workers are gossiping about others through e-mail, text messages, and over various social networking websites. Be on the lookout for those e-mails that could mistakenly be sent to you that are about you!
- Gossip tends to be negative. There is rarely such a thing as positive gossip. So when people gossip in the workplace, it tends to be negative. It's okay to talk about someone who just received a promotion or just got married. But if insults and suspicions start to fly, then that is considered to be gossip.
This poll clearly demonstrates that office gossip is clearly never good in the workplace. That's something everyone can agree on.
How to Avoid Workplace Gossip
Workplace gossip is avoidable if you take the proper precautions. Here are a few tips so you can avoid being involved in gossip in the workplace.
- Don't engage in workplace gossip! This should be obvious, but you will find it's actually quite difficult. Don't engage in any workplace gossip. If you hear a story, whether it is the truth or not, do not spread it around. Unless you experience something firsthand and it's relevant to the workplace, then it's not worth talking about.
- Walk away when your co-workers try to gossip in front of you. If you are eating lunch or on a break, and people start to gossip or include you in the gossip, just walk away. Your co-workers will be offended by it, but you would have saved yourself a lot of trouble. The more gossip you hear, the more you will be tempted to spread it. They will probably gossip about that as well.
- Don't talk about your personal life. Co-workers love to gossip about the personal lives of those around them. Do what I do and rarely talk about your personal life. The less you share, the less others will have to gossip about. This also means not sharing your Facebook, Twitter, etc., with your co-workers.
- Find another job. While this may be extreme, if you want to avoid a workplace that is so toxic with gossip, just find another job. You may find a different workplace that doesn't have a gossiping problem.
The only time people dislike gossip is when you gossip about them.
— Will Rogers
How You Can Stop Workplace Gossip
Rather than avoiding workplace gossip, you should do your best to stop workplace gossip, so it never becomes a problem. Here are a few suggestions on how to do that.
- Don't engage in workplace gossip! If you don't engage in workplace gossip, you not only avoid it, you prevent it from happening. Others may see you won't engage in it and may begin to do the same.
- Ask others to stop gossiping. If you hear gossiping, then ask others to stop. While they may find your approach blunt, they may not realize they are gossiping until that point. So confront your co-workers about it, but do it politely.
- Steer conversations about gossip towards work conversations. If you don't want to try the direct approach, you could change the conversation to something work-related. Your co-workers could get the hint that the gossip isn't wanted.
- Tell your supervisor about it. If all else fails, go to your boss and advise them that your co-workers are gossiping. Any good manager will try to stop it as best they can.
How a Supervisor Can Stop Workplace Gossip
Supervisors are very influential in determining how gossip is handled in the workplace. While employees may start it, supervisors can end it.
- Lead by example. If your staff see you gossiping, they will see that it's acceptable to gossip and do it without hesitation. If they see you putting a stop to gossip, then they will see you want to put a stop to it and will stop themselves.
- Discuss issues that lead to gossip. If two co-workers constantly gossip about one another, pull them aside and hash out the issues. Maybe it was a misunderstanding that was leading to the gossip war.
- Develop a written policy against gossip. Developing a written policy that staff has to sign could be a good deterrent to gossip in the workplace. Gossip can be a form of harassment in the workplace, so outlining that in a policy is a good idea. Plus, this is a good backup if you have to proceed to the next step in handling the issue.
- Discipline those that are gossiping. Sometimes actions speak louder than words. If your staff is gossiping, even after you instructed them not to and have a written policy against it, then it's time to discipline them. There is a good chance people will gossip that someone was disciplined, but that should be enough of a deterrent for your staff to stop.
My Experiences With Workplace Gossip
Here are a few of my experiences with workplace gossip, spanning from when I started my career to as recent as the year this article was written.
- My gossip caused someone to transfer from my office. I was working with co-workers I normally didn't work with. One of those co-workers started to gossip about the co-workers I normally worked with. The next time I saw my co-workers, I told them what this person said, and one of my co-workers confronted this person about it in a threatening manner. This person felt so uncomfortable that they eventually transferred out of our office. Did this person start it when they gossiped to me about my co-workers? Yes, but I continued it when I gossiped about it.
- A former supervisor everyone gossiped about was a close friend to a new employee. My co-workers and I gossiped about one of our former supervisors all of the time. When a new employee started, we told her how horrible this supervisor was. We shared stories, insulted this supervisor, etc. After a while, this new employee and I became close. One day she told me she was a close friend of our former supervisor. I could only imagine how much this friend passed on to her former supervisor.
- Gossip resulted in me having to write up one of my supervisors. By this time, I had become a supervisor, with supervisors below the staff and me below them. Gossip had become so bad in my office that I didn't know who or what to believe. A lot of it centered around one of my supervisors. There was an investigation into the gossip, which resulted in one of my supervisors receiving a write-up for the things they said. I still don't believe this supervisor made the comments that they were accused of, but with so many eyewitness accounts of the supposed comments and how they spread throughout the office, I had no choice but to discipline the supervisor.
- Gossip resulted in panic in the office that people were losing their jobs. My boss told one of her employees, who was a supervisor, about some changes coming up in the office. It was meant to be confidential. That supervisor then relayed that to their employees, which caused widespread panic that people were going to lose their jobs, people were being forced out, etc. Gossip like this caused a true panic in the office.
What experiences have you had with workplace gossip? How did you help stop workplace gossip? Share your experiences in the comments below.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why do people gossip?
Answer: Because people are inherently curious and want to know things about other people. Though some may use it as blackmail, a way to trade information, etc. Everyone has their own reasons.
© 2013 David Livermore
Finn from Barstow on March 24, 2019:
Great article talking about a delicate topic in a fair and informative matter (non-gossipy or bitchy). Sorry for using those terms but I don't know how else to describe gossip. I had some horrible experiences myself with gossip in the workplace and eventually I ended up leaving. It just goes to show you how influential politics are because if you are not with the "in" crowd, then you are an outsider and regardless of the example you try to set or how professional you strive to be, it often fails.
It's reassuring to hear that there are people who understand this issue and are willing to offer sensible solutions.
Wish I would have come across this five years ago.
email@example.com on March 21, 2019:
gossiping causes me a lot of stress particularly when some I like gossips about some I like too.
Tamara Wilhite from Fort Worth, Texas on November 07, 2015:
Dave Ramsey says that he has a no gossip policy in the work place; if you have a problem, only discuss it with someone who can help you solve it. And if it isn't an issue to be solved or plan for the future, you don't talk about other coworkers or their personal lives!
Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on September 02, 2013:
I think gossip happens at every workplace and it is definitely hurtful. It's even worse when it is a small office as the "buzz" travels quickly.
David Livermore (author) from Bakersfield, California, United States on September 02, 2013:
Thank you very much. I'm so tired of it in my workplace and been trying to put a stop to it. I want to help others out that are in the same situation.
Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on September 02, 2013:
what an excellent article! I'm hoping that this will become a buzz article... and I'll do what I can to help that happen. Gossip is addictive and compulsive... it is also capable, as you point out, of ruining lives. I love your solutions-oriented approach to this scourge.