It seems we live in a culture of gossip, and likely have been since the beginning of time. Around the neighbourhood, in our families, on the job, gossip somehow fuels our sense of curiosity and to some extent, acts as a form of entertainment. You only have to glance at the tabloids at the grocery checkout, turn on your computer or watch some reality TV show to realize how much we love gossip and how curious we are about other people’s affairs, addictions and relationship troubles.
The Germans have a word for this fascination and it’s called Schadenfreude, meaning pleasure derived from someone else’s misfortune.
Hearing some juicy bit of news about someone else, or spreading some choice piece of tantalizing information can pique our interest, fuel our egos, and elevate us in the ranks of popularity. It’s entertaining until the lens focuses on yourself and you become the subject, indeed the victim of gossip.
Gossip is nothing less than bullying.
And workplace gossip is no different. Workplace gossip can do far more than just embarrass us or hurt our feelings, workplace gossip can negatively impact productivity and have long-term detrimental effects on our mental health.
What can you do to prevent gossip in the workplace, and what can you do if you’re the victim? Here are a few helpful tips:
Stop fuelling gossip. We live in a society constantly bombarded with the negative news and the bad behaviour of other people, so stop the flood of information and share good news for a change. If you read something negative in an email, blog, or via social media, don’t pass it on or comment on it. The best way to stop a fire from spreading is not to throw more fuel on it. If you hear someone gossiping about someone else, leave the room in silent protest.
Censor yourself. Be cautious of what you share with your work colleagues, and keep opinions and private information about co-workers to yourself. This is especially crucial when it comes to email, for once you hit the send button you have no control over how your words will be shared and where they will end up. Keep details to a minimum, especially in large groups and as a rule, if you wouldn’t want to publish it in the office newsletter with your name in the byline, it might be best to keep it to yourself.
Be trustworthy. We spend so much time at work, we naturally share some personal information with our co-workers. Before sharing personal information about yourself to a co-worker make sure you trust this person and never share anything in writing. Should a colleague trust in you with personal information, treat that information with respect. People will respect you and see you as trustworthy.
Engage in positive office communication: Sharing good news about your work colleagues is one way to turn the situation around in a positive direction. Spreading the news about recent achievements, recognizing something nice you saw someone do for a colleague, or mentioning how much you like working with your team helps create a positive working environment and positivity can be contagious.
Stand up against office gossip. You may be able to stop the gossip by speaking to the instigator, respectfully requesting they cease spreading personal information or misinformation about you. If you have tried to keep it collegial and the gossip doesn’t stop, take matters to your supervisor or HR representative. They are there to support you and to take corrective and if necessary, disciplinary action against the offending party or parties.
Get support: Further to the onsite support provided by your supervisor and HR rep, an EAP counsellor can help you manage the impact office gossip by coaching you to better navigate these kinds of workplace dynamics in the future.
The bottom line is that there is simply no place for gossip in a healthy workplace, and gossip will only lead to hurt and suffering. As Mom always said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” A simple concept, but invaluable advice.