Office water-cooler talk is part and parcel of working life, but what should you do when it crosses the line and devolves into workplace gossip? We have six things you should be aware when it comes to gossip at work.
- Distinguishing a Chat from Gossip
It might be hard to tell where the defining line is between a casual chat and gossip. Generally speaking, when the tone of a chat becomes negative, derogatory or inflammatory towards someone else in your workplace, it can be defined as gossip.
- Gossip Can Be a Form of Workplace Harassment
While laws on this vary from country to country, and company rules can be specific to individual businesses, gossip that seeks to damage a person’s reputation or inflict emotional harm is most certainly a form of workplace bullying which can be considered a form of harassment.
The Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as ‘a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health, your career and the job you once loved.’
If you engage in gossip you could leave yourself open for future harassment allegations which might affect your job security.
- Gossip Works Counter to Growth
Leading on from the previous point, if you are the owner of a company then you should be aware that gossip, and by extension bullying, can lead to a toxic atmosphere that threatens the growth of your business.
You want to foster an environment in which your employees can concentrate fully on their job without any extraneous distractions, especially from within your own company.
Co-CEO of multi-national translation company TransPerfect, Phil Shawe says, ’One cannot establish a sizable successful company in today’s world while having a culture of bullying.’
He continues, ‘Not only is bullying or intimidation the wrong managerial style to permit for moral reasons, it also is a bad way to do business that cannot scale and, anything built on such a culture will eventually fail once it gets beyond a mom-and-pop size.’
- Do Not Tolerate Gossip In Your Presence
The reality is of course that most of us are not running our own business. So, what can you do when someone is gossiping to you?
It is important to be assertive and show that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable around you. You do not have to be rude or burn bridges with your colleagues to do this.
You can, for example, simply change the topic of conversation once it veers into unsavoury territory or point out that is not nice to talk about people behind their back.
Ask the gossiper how they would feel if people said those kinds of things when they were not around to defend themselves or interject with something positive about the person being gossiped about.
If all else fails, walk away if you must.
- Those Who Gossip to You Will Gossip About You
This is an old proverb which has a few variations and lacks attribution, but it is no less true. Anyone who is happy to talk badly of other people to you is unlikely to have any qualms about talking badly of you to other people.
Another old saying also applies here, ‘Live by the sword, die by the sword’ means if you allow gossip to flourish you are enabling a toxic workplace environment which could eventually come back to attack you.
- What Should You Do If You Are the Victim of Workplace Gossip?
Here we come to our final and maybe most important point. Someone at work is saying things behind your back and attempting to ruin your reputation. How do you deal with it?
There are a few avenues you can take. You can approach the sources of the gossip directly. Talk to them one-on-one in a private room where no one else can eavesdrop and, in a non-confrontational way, tell them to stop talking about you.
You can also go directly to human resources, explain the situation and how it is affecting your mental and emotional health, and in turn, your work.
CEO of Human Resource Partners Inc. and Lowden & Associates, Sheila A. Dramis says, ‘The majority of employers have an employee handbook that prohibits harassment.’
If the gossip does not stop after you have addressed it with the gossiper, you have a solid case for workplace harassment and you should both document it and report it.
We hope the above points have explained exactly how harmful workplace gossip is and why you should not tolerate it whether you are an employer or an employee.
On the flip side, if you are a victim of workplace gossip please do not be disheartened. Know that you have options at your disposal to deal with the issue.