Trust and collaboration are at the heart of any successful organisation and gossip has the potential to ruin both.

Most people have been guilty of indulging in a little gossip at some point. However, gossiping can detract from performance and so also productivity. Whether it’s speculating about a co-worker’s questionable fashion choices or the boss’s new girlfriend, every workplace has its fair share of gossip. However, gossip can be incredibly damaging when it is vicious in nature and drags someone’s name down in the process.

According to Bryant-Smith, Australian co-author of ‘Fix your Team’, negative and vitriolic personal speculations about colleagues end up injuring team relationships and undermining productivity. She also suggests that it’s important for employers to call out such behaviour and curb it before it gets out of hand. Gossip exists in every workplace including private and government organisations and across the board has the same negative effect when it is able to flourish. Pervasive negative gossip spreads like a cancer and wreaks havoc in the team, department and eventually through the entire organisation. In its more malicious forms, gossip can be described as slander and can expose the organisation to higher legal liability risks.

People usually gossip due to an intrinsic desire to integrate in the group and forge a connection with others. Gossip, given its entertaining and instant nature, is a quick way to connect with colleagues. Unfortunately, the truth is that gossip plays a poor second fiddle to real, meaningful human connection; it only results in momentary gratification at someone else’s expense. The most prolific gossips are often those with the maximum sense of insecurity as these are the people who feel the need to disparage others. Ignoring the problem can lead to erosion of trust and morale as well as divisiveness among workers; there is increasing confusion over fact and speculation. Team members often end up second-guessing each other and running back and forth to the team leader for direct instructions. Office gossip breaks teams down into cliques and strains relationships.

Working constructively with someone you distrust is impossible so ideally team leaders and managers should put a stop to malicious gossip as soon as possible. At its worst it can lead to groupism and result in bullying or harassment. Whispering campaigns can socially isolate a worker and force them to feel left-out and excluded. All of this can be deadly to the work environment, distracts people from work and leaves the target feeling resentful or even depressed. Stopping gossip in its tracks and identifying perpetrators is vital for maintaining a healthy and harmonious environment.

Gossip flowing unabated through the workplace can be lethal to the business as well as to your employees. However, simply asking gossip mongers to stop doesn’t always work as they will simply resume when you are not around. The nature of gossip tends to be vague and so it’s difficult to identify specific culprits. If left unchecked, ‘harmless’ gossip can morph into bullying, intimidation and harassment. Your organisation may stand to lose valuable employees who may no longer feel comfortable working in the toxic environment. You owe it to your organisation to put an immediate stop to it and take disciplinary action if needed.

As team leaders and managers, you may waste enormous amounts of time and effort trying to find out who said what to whom. You may be stepping into a new area out of your comfort zone (especially if gossip has been allowed to run rampant). We offer highly experienced, professional help to investigate and understand the problem, find the cause and create solutions.

At ESN, we are happy to assist you to resolve workplace problems so that you can work in peace. We understand that toxic workplace issues can undermine productivity and affect employees adversely. You can discuss your problems with us and rely on our commitment, discretion and expertise in dealing with these issues. Please feel free to contact us regarding our wide range of workplace solutions.

R. Bryant-Smyth and G.Beard (2018), Fix your Team, John Wiley & Sons Australia Ltd