How Employers Can Address Workplace Gossip

Employees participating in workplace gossip.

It is inevitable that your employees will gossip from time to time, but it’s important to address pervasive and detrimental workplace gossip. It can lead to decreased job satisfaction, productivity, employee morale, and retention.

Depending on the type of gossip and the way it’s conveyed, the subject may feel anxious, unhappy, and even bullied, harassed, defamed, or slandered. Employees may gossip about your company and share misinformation about performance, changes, and hiring, promotion, and compensation decisions.

Now that you know the negative impact office gossip can have on your employees and your company, you’re probably wondering the best way to mitigate different types of gossip. Consider this your game plan.

Assess the Gossip

Start by determining the intent, truthfulness, and impact that workplace gossip could have on the subject or your company. Some gossip is harmless and can help coworkers establish relationships, understand office politics and the unwritten rules of the office, and share positive feedback about employees. However, other types of gossip can be detrimental. For example:

  • Malicious Gossip. An employee may knowingly spread false rumors with the intent to harm a coworker’s reputation, get them fired, or prevent them from finding new employment. (Of course, if an employee in good faith reports bad behavior or poor performance to their manager or HR, it isn’t considered malicious gossip even if it has a negative impact on the subject.)
  • Privacy Concerns. An employee may share private information about a coworker, client or customer, or your company. For example, they may discuss a colleague’s private medical information, a client’s financial information, or trade secrets.
  • Workplace Issues. Employees may discuss workplace issues like pay disparities, an inequitable or unclear career path, difficulties with coworkers, harassment, or a lack of transparency.

Have a One-on-One Conversation

If the gossip is detrimental, have their manager or a member of your HR team speak to the individual.

  • Malicious Gossip. If the employee is purposefully sharing false information, it could be considered harassment, discrimination, retaliation, slander, or defamation. Investigate the issue to see if the employee is in violation of your anti-harassment or nondiscrimination policies. It’s your responsibility to create a safe and inclusive work environment, and you may need to discipline or terminate employees who violate your policies.
  • Privacy Concerns. It’s important to remind all employees to respect each other’s privacy regarding health conditions and other private information. If an employee shares confidential and proprietary information about your customers, clients, or company, investigate whether they have breached your confidentiality policy.
  • Workplace Issues. Speak to employees who are discussing valid workplace issues. Investigate reports of bullying, retaliation, harassment, discrimination, pay disparities, and other issues. Listen to all the feedback you receive because you may be able to make positive changes to increase employee engagement and decrease employee turnover.

Speak to the Team

If you’ve noticed several instances of detrimental workplace gossip, you may want to speak with the entire team. Don’t call out specific people but remind everyone of relevant company policies and the importance of creating a collegial company culture.

If people are gossiping about your working conditions, address what you’re doing to make positive changes. For example, you may want to:

  • Complete a salary evaluation
  • Create clear job levels
  • Ask managers to make career development plans with their direct reports

Additionally, you can foster a feedback culture by encouraging managers to have regular one-on-ones, asking HR to run stay interviews and employee engagement surveys, and having a clear process for filing an HR complaint.

Increase Transparency

Gossip about company performance and changes may be caused by a lack of transparency. Keep your team informed about your company’s goals and objectives, accomplishments and setbacks, and any major changes.

You can increase transparency by hosting quarterly all-team and departmental meetings to discuss current and upcoming goals and objectives, priorities, major projects, and team and individual accomplishments. If there is employee or inter-departmental competition, it’s helpful to create more clearly defined roles and responsibilities and promote collaboration by having team-bonding events, affinity groups, and mentorship programs.

Promote “Positive Gossip”

Not all gossip is bad. Employees may celebrate their coworkers’ accomplishments and give positive feedback. They can also boost your employer brand by telling people about the benefits of working at your company.

Promote positive gossip by instituting employee recognition initiatives like awards, bonuses, surprise perks, and encouraging people to share positive feedback and applaud accomplishments. You can also share employee testimonials on your website and social media channels and offer employee referral bonuses.

Should You Create a Workplace Gossip Policy?

Office gossip policies can be problematic if they are too broad or prohibit employees from discussing work conditions. (Under The National Labor Relations Act, employers must allow employees to discuss their salaries and other working conditions, come together to address work issues, and form unions without fear of retribution.)

If you decide to create an office gossip policy, clearly define the type of gossip that’s prohibited and note that employees are allowed to discuss their salaries and work issues. Since the National Labor Relations Board has ruled against companies for having policies that are too broad or prohibitive, you may want to avoid possible issues by relying on your harassment, anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, non-retaliation, and confidentiality policies.

Continue Creating a Positive Company Culture

This advice for assessing and addressing workplace gossip will help you increase employee morale, engagement, and retention. Continue to build a positive company culture by implementing expert hiring and management advice from Monster.

Legal Disclaimer: None of the information provided herein constitutes legal advice on behalf of Monster.