How to Stop Office Gossip Once And For All

Psst!

Did you hear about the office that has a problem with gossip? You know THAT office where the employees all complain and moan about their manager, the workload, and how they are treated. They just NEED to quit their complaining and do their work, right?

How do you stop office gossip once and for all?
How do you stop office gossip once and for all?

Wrong so very wrong!

I’ve often been asked: “How can I stop my employees from gossiping?”

The answer to this question lies in the answer to another question:  “How happy are your employees?”

An uncomfortable silence follows where shoulders sag and eyes drop downward as the boss sheepishly admits, “We are working on the morale problem.”

Why is poor morale a breeding ground for gossip? Gossip actual builds bonds and lends support to employees who are stuck in less than ideal work situations.

Work sucks but we’ve got each other

Happy employees rarely feel the need to gossip. They might need to vent on occasion when a project is stressing them out, but gossip about the boss or the company? Not really. For the most part, they are happy, treated well, and empowered. Why gossip about a problem when you can fix it?

Unhappy employees are prone to gossip. Why? They feel powerless to change their situation. Perhaps their boss is not open to constructive criticism. Or if employees speak up, their ideas are disregarded or legitimate complaints are treated like treason against the company.

Gossip is a sign of powerlessness. If you are serious about ending gossip for good, then EMPOWER your employees.

Rebuild trust

Unhappy employees don’t trust the management. Empowering employees requires a complete overhaul of the company culture  or at the very least management style. This starts by rebuilding trust. If employees were shut down in the past when they tried to make positive change, they are not going to believe your 360º turnaround.

Take an honest interest in your employees. Have a real conversation with them about things other than work. Ask how they are and be interested in the answer. Find out what their everyday life is like at work. They will be hesitant at first, but if you are sincere in wanting better for them and your organization they will come around.

Listen with a compassionate ear

A compassionate ear helps improve morale
A compassionate ear helps improve morale

Once you begin building trust – it’s time to start listening with a compassionate ear. You are NOT going to like what you are going to hear. You must not take what they tell you personally. Focus on solutions to the problems that you are hearing over and over again.

Don’t play favorites

Let’s face it managers sometimes have to enforce crappy policies that come from upper management.  You might not agree with your company’s “butts in the seat 8-hours a day” policy, but it must be applied to all employees. If one employee continually slips out early and the boss know about it and does nothing – that person becomes a target of gossip and so does the boss.

You know what kills morale – bosses who play favorites. Apply policies (even awful ones) equally.

Take action

You know what you can do and what you can’t do to improve morale. You’ve slowly rebuilt trust. You’ve listened to honest conversations now it is time to take action. Do something to improve morale. Something needs to come of those conversations that your employees have entrusted you with.

Follow-up on those conversations – even if upper management shuts you down and says no – you can tell your employees that you stepped up and tried to make a difference. It shows that you are on their side and not their adversary and target of gossip.

Gossip is a problem in the office, but its roots are in lousy morale and employees who do not feel listened to or empowered. As a manager, what can you do to improve morale and prevent gossip?

18 Responses to How to Stop Office Gossip Once And For All

  1. This is a great post, because you tackle the underlying issue.
    So often in our society, we look at a ‘gossip’, and that’s all we see.
    They gossip because they are a gossip, and that’s that.
    But after all my research into doing what I do, that’s not the case.
    So often there is something underneath.
    You have to get to the root and sort that out.
    Well done!

    • Exactly Daniel. The gossip is the problem – if people just stopped gossiping then everything would be perfect around the office. Gossip is always, always a symptom of something larger. Like you say, we have to dig underneath to get at the root.

  2. In Judaism “gossip” is considered a serious sin. Why? Because once it’s put out there, the analogy is like it’s a leaf in the wind, nearly impossible to pick up or take back. My only strong belief is to sit on ANY strong thing you would put in writing for 24 hours. If you still feel so angry and/or passionate the next day, so be it!

    • That is great advice. I think in bad working environments – you still feel strongly about it, but there’s nothing you can do about it. So you talk to your colleagues since you are so disenfranchised.

  3. Great points. I like looking at some things that can be changed or look at if offices have a problem. I don’t think it will ever be a “mute” issue. There are many people that thrive on gossip and will “find” things to talk about, even if they are non-issues. Sad.. but true

    • I think there will be those unhappy people who will always find something to “bitch” about, but if you have a whole office with the problem. It stems from something much larger – like bad morale or you made a lot of bad hires.

  4. Great post… We definitely have issues with Gossip going around and I agree with you that it comes down to morale. I am continually trying to work on increasing morals, but it is not easy!

    • Increasing morale is never easy. It takes a lot of rebuilding trust – I remember once when things started getting slightly better at my work place no one trusted it. We all were said “This is nice, but it won’t last.” In that case, it didn’t.

  5. What’s your recommended course of action if the gossip does not originate from the employees, but rather from the owner/operator of the company? What tactics can be applied to improve morale and trust when staff want nothing to do with the “boss”? I look forward to your suggestions.

    • Honestly Lisa, when leadership is rotten from the top – there is nothing you can do. The leader sets the tone for the company. If the boss gossips, then it creates a toxic culture for the employees. I’ve worked in an organization where the leadership was toxic (not with gossip but with other issues likes favoritism, instability, etc.), and employees were powerless to make things better for themselves. My advice – polish your resume and start job hunting.

  6. Well, I hate to say it but this article did nothing for me. I have an assistant that I inherited from another department. The other department head warned me that she tells everything as soon as she knows it. My department deals with a lot of confidential information, she cannot keep from “blabbing” as soon as she gets a whiff of something.
    I’ve reprimanded her, oral and written counseling, conferencing, everything, nothing seems to work. She won’t stop sharing information. Her excuse is that she doesn’t understand why she can’t share information. Since she’s vested, it’s harder to dismiss her. She’s my assistant and I have tried to keep her out of the loop as a way to curb her gossiping, but she still eavesdrops at my door.
    Does anyone have any advice?

    • Kaydee – it doesn’t sound like your company is doing anything to improve her morale. The point of this article is that gossip is caused with deep dissatisfaction from your working environment/job. Gossip is a SYMPTOM of a larger problem – you’ve clearly got one happening and your job as a leader is to fix the underlying problem and that cures the symptom of gossip. She clearly is dissatisfied on some level, or she wouldn’t be seeking out to opportunities to be the center of attention in her work place. Really, that’s why she “blabs” because she get some sort of power from having knowledge.

      Have you had a real heart-to-heart about what she like about her job, what she doesn’t, what you could do to make her job better? This isn’t a reprimand session as that doesn’t seem to work for her.

      If that doesn’t work, document how her confidentiality breaches impact the company and take it to HR.

      • I don’t think that everyone who gossips is unhappy with their workplace. The habitual, ‘busybody’ usually suffers from low self esteem, and loves the attention and power they gain, when the obtain some ‘juicy information’ that no one else knows about.

        I think it’s silly to advise people that their employer is the root problem of low morale and gossip. Adults need to be responsible for their own actions, and stop behaving like school children. An employer provides an opportunity, a job, a paycheck, most of the time they also provide benefits like health insurance, paid sick leave, and vacation. It is not their responsibility to provide their employees happiness.

        We have become such a self-centered society, that expects everyone to bow to their own demands…that’s just not possible. People are people, and will always find something to be unhappy, and to complain about. Ultimately, everyone has their own agenda…rightly or wrongly, that’s people. Unfortunately, we put up with the gossips, and don’t engage in their same behavior. If you’re looking for a perfect workplace, start your own business and work from home. Otherwise, grow up, and be a productive adult that doesn’t participate in childish behavior.

        • Shelia, I would highly recommend that your read Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage. This book is rooted in positive psychology and cites study after study about why providing a positive environment for employees is beneficial. Happy employees who have high morale are more productive, innovative, more efficient and are sick less often. This save company’s time and makes business more profitable. Your business should be your employee’s happiness. The business will only grown from it.

          Second, clearly this post has hit a chord with you, and you feel that a company who provides a paycheck has done their job. It doesn’t matter if the employees 40-hours a week is dreadful. Those “children” should be grateful. With that kind of attitude, I can imagine why the employees you work with gossip. It sounds miserable that a place where employees spend so much time at cares so little about their well-being. Maybe because it’s Christmas time, this attitude does remind me a bit of Scrooge.

          Third, I’m not looking for a perfect workplace. Most workplaces have some issues – but if pervasive gossip is a problem – it’s symptom of low morale. It might just be that employee or it might be company-wide. You can treat it by telling your employees “To grow up and stop acting so childish” which I’m pretty sure would do nothing to help the situation or you can start addressing what is going on in your organizational culture or for that individual.

          Finally, I have my own business that makes me happy, fulfills my needs, and I’m even a productive adult member of society. You don’t have to be miserable to earn money.

  7. This works for people who gossip because they feel powerless because they are not empowered by their company. Some people gossip because they feel powerless because they are weak of character, perhaps jealous of someone else’s ability, skills, talent, even their car or pay scale. So while we can “empower” employees all we like people who are simply bullies do exist. I’m not saying that the problem isn’t reduced by employees being happier, I’m saying that employees aren’t always unhappy because of working conditions or culture. Some just feel entitled to be unhappy because they suffer from a belief of inferiority, and feel entitled to bully and gossip because of it.

    • Hi Chris. Thank you for your comment. It looks like you’re conflating gossip and bullying. This article is not intended to address office bullying (which does occur, and gossip may or may not be a part of bullying). If the office has a bully, then that needs to be escalated to HR immediately.

  8. I have a major problem at work, I have spoken to management about it and they said they can’t stop gossiping to get over it. The person who does this wants to controll everything. She belittles or makes others think you can’t do the job and will purposely call out your mistakes. I go home and tell my husband I know he is tired of it. I hate going to work because I don’t know what mistake she will call me out on. She does this to others also and I have stood up for them and have been told I can’t stand up for anyone anymore. I didn’t yell or get loud but have spoken against her and everyone heard it. I know this is a form of bullying and I can’t fix it except to quit.

Speak Up!