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Gossip: No place in the workplace

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I once heard someone say, "Gossip is better than dessert! It's delicious, rich, sweet-and doesn't make you fat!" Yeah, I did the high school thing and giggled about who was dating who, what was going where and when was so going to who knows what? I think we all try to avoid it as adults, but it's especially rampant at the workplace and can be hard to avoid.

Sometimes, I look at it like that especially fresh pile of dog turds nobody bothered to pick up that someone will inevitably step in. I think I can say that we all know what dog turds are, and if one doesn't, one is welcome to do the research.

However, some of us can't always recognize gossip. Some of us cannot recognize it for what it is until too late. Companies are instilling stricter and stricter penalties on this practice and the results easily have deserving and undeserving employees being terminated or even sued.

According to dictionary.com, gossip is defined as: idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others.

A lot of people believe that gossip is limited to talk of a sexual and/or derogatory nature. For example, it's not okay to talk about who John Doe is trying to date in the office, but it's perfectly okay to talk about Jane Doe's father having cancer because it's of a sad and not scandalous nature. Sorry, still not okay. I once had a co-worker who shared with another that she was pregnant- in the strictest confidence. Now, this other co-worker spread the news far away because of course, it can't be gossip if it's such happy news!

Two months later, the first co-worker sadly miscarried and was in utter pain and turmoil when people would congratulate her. I'll never forget how terrible it was when a gentleman innocently commented that she still looked great and slender in what he thought was a compliment-only to have her burst into tears.

Looking back at this situation, no one really meant any harm but harm was done regardless. As a personal rule, try to limit talking about anything of a personal nature regarding a co-worker, leader, and/or subordinate.

Another factor people don't seem to acknowledge is how gossip can affect the people involved. Gossiping about celebrities, people whose lives are miles and miles from ours affects them very minimally. Based on their professions, they expect it and often, flip them into positives for their careers. But, what about your boss? Your co-worker? Can they turn rumors into positives? How do you recover from rumors about sexual harassment for example? How can you recover from people believing these rumors?

You may dismiss the fact that rumors carry any weight but they do. A Manager interviewing you for a promotion may not believe that you're a backstabbing, irresponsible liar-but the rumor may plant a seed of doubt.

After all, we're all human and it's in our nature to question. Rumors can be considered as slander and defamation of character in many cases and have lead to lawsuits. It matters very little if you started the rumor or not, but helping it spread or standing by while it spreads can yield the same negative results.

Some people honestly don't want to participate in gossip. But, they feel pressured or are simply caught in mid-fire. Anyone can understand the politics of the matter. If you'd rather not participate, excuse yourself. No big scene or lecture is needed on your part. A simple statement said politely like, : "Guys, we shouldn't be talking about this" can also bring an uncomfortable conversation to close. Adding "we" instead of "you" adds a sense of community and lessens the embarrassment others might feel at being "reprimanded."

If you're skilled enough, you can also switch topics but be warned that in some companies, gossiping about the company itself (what some consider a 'safe' subject) is also disallowed. For example, a statement like: "I heard we might not be getting Christmas bonuses this year" may sound innocent and may even be true but to a company, it might result in employees quitting or other negative factors.

Upper Management may have planned to announce this in a different manner, make explanations or even inform employees that something better is at work. But, gossiping about these things takes the wind from their sails so to speak. Better not broach this topic either and when in doubt, take a look at the company rule book. If you're still unsure, ask a Supervisor.

Being gossiped about is never fun. If you fear that this happening to you and is damaging your career, take a breath, calm down and speak to a trusted Supervisor about it. No whining necessary. Be as factual as you can reporting it and try to stay away from making assumptions such as: "She's spreading rumors about me because she's jealous of me." Instead, try to use sentences like: "I am concerned because I became aware that rumors are being spread about me and is contributing to a hostile work-environment for me."

Always keep it professional-even if the gossipers themselves didn't. This will not only give you more credibility but will demonstrate that you can keep your professionalism under pressure. If another person is being gossiped about, I would not recommend telling them directly. After all, if you heard it, what's to say you're not spreading it? Instead, try talking to the gossiper about stopping. If that doesn't work and the rumors are serious enough to do damage, head to Management.

Gossip is glamorized these days with shows like "Gossip Girl" and blogs like "perezhilton.com." But it needs to stay out of the professional world. I hate the excuse that there's not much else to talk about. There is! Movies, books, world events- take your pick. There's a lot less conflict involved.

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