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Susan M. Heathfield

What Causes Gossip?

By June 2, 2011

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Do you have a problem with gossip at work? Does your workplace overflow with employees whispering, talking behind people's backs, and criticizing or making fun of employees who aren't in the room?

Gossip is rampant, wide spread, and contagious in some workplaces. I would characterize those gossip-ridden workplaces as settings in which employees do not receive sufficient information about what is happening in the company. (This is one of the employees' five most important needs from work.)

Gossip is also a characteristic of companies that fail to make their decision making transparent to employees.

When decision rationale is not clear, then employees spend time guessing - usually with the most negative, nefarious rationales in mind - about why something changed.

When economic times are tough, and people are waiting for bad news, you must take on the hard topics to encourage your employees to trust you. If employees trust you, they are more likely to come to you with questions and comments. This is what you want to encourage at work.

I have also recommended that you need to nip gossip in the bud, just like employee negativity. Left to fester, both grow and are contagious; they infect even the most positive-spirited employees and weigh down the workplace. I do believe that negatively and persistently affecting employee morale is an offense that deserves disciplinary action (and lots of you agree), if coaching isn't working to change behavior. Here's how to manage gossip.

And, just out of curiosity, do you think that organizations should adopt a no gossip policy? Would it create an HR nightmare and only make matters worse? At PrintingForLess.com, a no gossip policy increases the sense of team work. At WinePressPublishing, a no gossip policy contributes to an uplifting environment.

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November 19, 2009 at 2:18 pm
(1) Rob says:

I will not work for a company that has a “no gossip” policy. In fact I recently turned down a job offer for this exact reason.

When you, the employer, say “no gossip,” what I hear is that you are so afraid of what employees might say to one another that you feel the need to implement a formal policy, which means that you have something to hide, which means that you are not trustworthy, which means that I won’t work for you.

Companies that are open and honest with their employees don’t need gossip policies, because the open and honest environment will in general obviate the cause of gossip.

This is not to say that there are not still people who will gossip no matter what, but they can be dealt with much more effectively by addressing the performance issues that their perennial gossip is sure to cause than by implementing a company-wide “no gossip” policy which will (without a doubt) engender a feeling of fear in each employee and reduce needed communication and intra-departmental cooperation, causing incalculable harm to morale and the bottom line as a result.

August 19, 2011 at 7:33 am
(2) Jen says:

Excellent point, Rob. I initially thought an anti-gossip policy was a great idea, having been a target of someone’s vicious and bullying behaviour in the past, gossip being used as a means to discredit and isolate me by a jealous coworker.

However, what I noticed about this company was how much they promoted their ‘no bullying policy’! I know for a fact that bullying was rampant within this company, the culture was very competitive and unhealthy and resignation emails were being sent out on a weekly basis. You could not offer to help another worker without being seen as a threat.

Something about this organization was creating this culture and bullying behaviour. I have rarely seen ‘anti-bullying’ policies within companies where bullying is rare and the culture is extremely team focused and morale is high.

It’s a bit of an irony, but you’re spot on, a healthy culture does not require ‘anti’ negative behaviour because their overall work environment is set up so that this behaviour is prevented. Even if a ‘grievance’ procedure is in place it can often make matters even worse for the target.

Prevention is far better than ‘cure’ (or attempts to cure).

November 22, 2009 at 4:59 am
(3) Roma says:

I very much agree with Rob. Implementation of ‘No Gossip’ Policy will be like a dictatorial governance which ultimately people will hate. Besides that there are two very important aspects to gossip.

Firstly, it is very natural of people to gossip/back bite even if they are working in a heavenly organization. Just like you cannot eradicate politics where bunch of people are working together similarly you cannot stop people gossiping. Its all in our minds. What one can best do is to educate and inculcate values that reverses the affect of gossip. For e.g. promote the value of ‘not condemning’ and even if one wants to do it then pair condemnation with a workable solution.

Secondly, from my experience so far I see that quite a lot of friendships, groups and bonds are formed due to this very activity. Such groups/bonds are definitely not healthy to an organization’s culture but on the other hand through them one can easily create a domino effect for the change one wants to bring.

November 22, 2009 at 9:21 am
(4) ina says:

I don’t think we, as HR, should try to regulate the human interaction in such detail. If the company is transparent, than the upper management has nothing to fear.
Gossip is a for of bonding for a lot of individual and it’s not HR’s job to regulate this.
This would be a communist approach

November 22, 2009 at 11:58 am
(5) Dave says:

Rob, you deserve great prise for not coming to work for a company because you don’t agree with their policies. It saves time for people like me, although dismissing someone like you may be enjoyable, wasting my companies time isn’t worth it. Sounds like you belong at a hair dressers store front fixing the hair dryers so you can get all that good gossip you so clearly need.

Discussing work issues is far different from gossiping, seems as though you don’t know the difference.

November 23, 2009 at 1:36 pm
(6) Ginny says:

I think a no gossip policy would be a nightmare to try and enforce, and successfully defend.

Tell me, Dave, how much time do you spend monitoring employee conversations, accessing and reading employee’s e-mails, and mucking around in social networking sites in order to enforce your company’s policy?

December 14, 2009 at 6:36 pm
(7) Alex says:

A policy such as this is silly. We need HR people to spend time undestanding people not managing them. Policies such as these make the typical HR person…well…typical. As long as you treat folks as adults, they will behave like adults. If coaching does not work, you might want to focus on your selection process.

December 28, 2009 at 11:53 am
(8) Sher says:

I don’t think Dave should get so personal with Rob. The fact is that he has a valid reason and reserves that right to refuse to work with a company that implements a “no gossip” policy. While I do not support gossip, whether at work or otherwise, I think having such a policy definitely restricts communication, which is an integral part of social interaction.

A “No Gossip” policy is a quick fix to the symptoms of poor organizational culture. Mamagenent can curtail gossip by adopting a culture that is transparent and cordial. An open door policy which encourages employees to freely approach their managers, supervisors and peers to discuss ideas, concerns and issues, and make mistakes (within limits) and learn by them will reduce or eliminate the need to gossip. Adopting a culture that is based on team work and knowledge sharing where information is readily imparted and individuals/teams are rewarded based on performance is a current HR best practice.

The HR policies must be fair and equitable and employees must be properly oriented and inducted when they join the organization. The recruitment and selection process must also play an integral role in screening employees with the right attitude to be a part of the organization. This has to be a holistic approach as there is no quick fix to the problem of office gossip. The fact is that people will gossip whether there is a policy or not. They will go “underground” to satisfy this need, and ultimately this will affect organizational growth.

August 13, 2010 at 2:57 pm
(9) Mel says:

Unfortunatley, it has come to formalizing a “no malicious gossip policy” in my organization. Our gossip woes are not ones of corporate gossip, but malicious personal gossip. Our employees believe that an open door policy means that they need to come and talk to managment and HR about what has been said about them personally.

It creates an atmosphere of distrust and in some cases outright hostile working environments. Apparently no one knows what it means to be polite and considerate anymore.

January 1, 2011 at 3:42 pm
(10) Paul says:

I agree with the policy. Bullies use gossip in an attempt to gain power by undermining others. Fire bullies.

January 12, 2011 at 1:32 pm
(11) Barbara says:

I also agree with a no malicious gossip policy. I am currently researching this to include a policy in our handbook. I wouldn’t have thought it to be necessary, but in some work environments it is. When the gossip is negative and hurts other employee’s reputations then we need to stop it. In addition to hurting those being gossiped about it wastes time they should be using on work related activities. I work for a consulting company and our employees are working in the client’s environment. We cannot have employees maliciously gossiping while we are billing the client for their work. Not to mention that it hurts morale and causes stress. Anyone who will not work for a company with such a policy either doesn’t understand the difference between malicious gossip and friendly conversation or would rather work for a company that doesn’t mind if you hurt other employee’s feelings or disrupt the workplace. Not the kind of company I want to be in doing HR.

February 8, 2011 at 9:17 pm
(12) Maris says:

I lead a large organization. For the betterment of this organization and simply to follow policy, I occasionally have to discipline or fire an employee. Legally and ethically I cannot and would not divulge my reasons for taking action. While all employees can “grieve” or sue the organization for illegal or unethical discipline, other employees, who may be feeling a little nervous about the expectations of their boss or those who flat out despise me because I fired their friend have seen fit to twist, speculate, and fabricate “stories” about me throughout the entire organization and beyond. This is their sometimes effective method of undermining my ability to gain the confidence of employees and employer(s).
I try to take the high road and do not respond to rumors, however, morale at work is as low as ever and a spirit of fear exists even among the most excellent employees. What else besides this kind of no-gossip policy could alleviate this?

June 2, 2011 at 2:28 pm
(13) Alok Nigam says:

Dear Maris,
I would really like to work on this kind of situation;unfortunately I do not know how to get more details(not too many) and give you some ideas.It is not as difficult to get out of it as you may think

June 2, 2011 at 2:23 pm
(14) Alok Nigam says:

What is Gossip from Management View Point could be FEAR of UNKNOWN from Employee View Point.We must put fear to rest before it damages morale beyond a point.We do not need a policy for every issue in the company.A lot of things can simply be handled through practices and Gossip would, I feel can be handled more suitably, thru Company Culture on consideration of Employee Feelings rather than opening the Policy Book and referring to Sections ad sub-sections and paragraphs.Create an Environment where an Employee can walk in with whom soever he/she feels comfortable and ask the GOSSIP question.The chain then links right up to the HR at lightening speed to shoot out the right communication to clear the air.

June 3, 2011 at 1:08 am
(15) Deepak says:

Aand it may not always have to be HR who shoots out the right communication. It could be the line organisation as well who takes the responsibility to write the communication so that they build the credibility with People. When HR writes communications like these then we are promoting weak managers who will sit behind the communication and gosssip more. any comments here?

October 5, 2011 at 2:45 pm
(16) Ihategossip says:

As a person who has given up gossiping during middle school and a person who has been the victim of malicious gossip, I have to respectfully disagree with some of the posters who disagree with this policy and question whether or not those who disagree with the policy are in fact malicious gossipers themselves. I would LOVE to work for a company that implemented such a policy! Seriously, I don’t care about the negative aspects of my coworkers’ lives because I’m at work to….wait for it…work! Gossip can not only tarnish reputations but it can also lead to the destruction of a team environment and create a hostile workplace. As the cliche goes, if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all. Another thing I wanted to add is that if you have an issue with someone, grow the heck up, walk up to the person, and ask to have a private talk about your issues before you tattle to the boss or talk smack about said person to other coworkers.

May 9, 2012 at 7:27 pm
(17) Aaron says:

I have to agree with Dave. Turning down a job because of a no-gossip policy? Rob is definitely not a person that I would want working in my organization.

I am surprised that any of the posters here are against a no gossip policy. If it is well drafted, it should never be a source of conflict. The only way that such a policy will be effective, however, is if there is substantial buy-in from the staff. The policy should only be part of developing a corporate culture of respect.

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