Gossip is all around us– from magazine covers, tabloids, friendship circles and the workplace. This social engagement is often very hard to avoid, as it has been said:
“up to two thirds of a conversation make references to an absent third party”
– (Grosser et al., 2012).
Gossip is defined as any casual form of communication, or ‘empty talk’ usually about an absent third party, and is usually considered to be negative (Altunas et al. 2014, Grosser et al., 2010).
Gossiping in the workplace usually comes about when formal communication between employers, employees is lacking or dysfunctional (Altunas et al., 2014). We can easily gauge whether an organization is successful in staff management and communication or not via the amount of rumor and gossip during ambiguous times of change (promotions, transfers, intense crises) (Farley et al., 2010).
7 ways that gossip impacts the social functioning of a group
- Collecting and disseminating information about individuals.
- Releasing withheld emotions, having a ‘vent’, serving as an emotional outlet and stress relief.
- Creating a sense of cohesion between people, strengthening bonds and connections.
- Feeling a sense of belonging to a group and encourages socializing.
- Learning about expectations within an organization and the behavioural norms.
- Entertainment via satisfying emotional needs and eliminating boredom.
- The need for self-enhancement. (Altunas et al., 2014, Grosser et al., 2010)
Gossip can have its benefits, creating strong social bonds between individuals and group solidarity (Altunas et al., 2014).
However, this is usually at someone else’s expense and the ramifications of gossip within a workplace can be very damaging. It can disrupt teamwork, reduce productivity, hurt feelings, diminish morale and damage reputations, which all lead to a high staff turnover (Altunas et al., 2014, Grosser et al., 2010).
What can a managers do to impact gossip in the workplace?
Whilst gossip can never be eliminated completely, there are many steps which employers should consider taking when striving for a healthier and happier workplace.
Have clear, frequent and formal meetings to communicate the on goings within the business
As gossip has been said to increase during times of ambiguous change within the workplace, it is important to fully inform employees of new changes, and keep the door open for people to express their concerns or opinions (Altunas et al., 2014, Grosser et al., 2010).
Gossip can heighten when employees concerns are not considered and thoughts and ideas are not addressed. For example, “Did you hear that in the meeting? He didn’t even listen to me!”.
Everyone’s viewpoints need to be responded to with respect, ensuring employees feel like they are a valuable and important part of the team, and that their concern can or will be addressed.
Create a culture of civility
Incivility is the practice of adopting inconsiderate conversations that go against work place values and norms. Basically, it is when an individual has bad manners and lacks compassion towards other people.
Some examples of incivility are; being condescending towards others, blaming others for your mistakes and throwing tantrums when you don’t get your way. These habits can rapidly spread through an organization.
These textbook characteristics of incivility can be diminished via establishing the values of the business (honesty, respect etc), run training programs on how to deal with difficult people, and how to communicate effectively.
In addition to this, it is important for employers to undergo a thorough background screening check for future employees, to avoid these problems at the very start. A 360-degree survey (employees reviewing other employees) may also be beneficial as the management team can review the strengths and weaknesses of each employee’s performance, and work together to improve and prosper.
Career Development and Goal Setting
Employers can motivate employees to set challenging goals in order to keep them focused and content in their role, feeling like they are moving forward and aren’t stagnating. If an employee isn’t feeling this way, they are more inclined to talk to other employees about the problems they are having in their role.
It is best to first and foremost, communicate with management if any problems arise, not fellow employees. It is recommended to set realistic goals and review individual performance, to keep everyone on the same page and to progress the workforce further. Whilst doing this, it is important to focus predominantly on strengths of employees and build confidence and contentment. If problematic behavior is discussed, it is vital to comment and focus on the behavior itself, not the individual.
It is essential for each employee to have a clear job description, and are allocated their own tasks enhancing responsibility and accountability. With this in mind, it is important for employee’s to be flexible in their role, and be willing to engage in teamwork when other departments need help.
Take Home Message
At the end of the day, gossip can never be cancelled out completely, however it can be managed effectively when dealt with using compassionate and clear communication channels. We should all strive to be involved in a workplace that is rewarding, productive and fun for both the employees and employers.
“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”
– Henry Thomas Buckle
Altunas, S., Sahun Altun, D., & Akyil, R.C. (2014). The nurses’ form of organizational communication: What is the role of gossip? Contemporary Nurse, 48(1), 109-116.
Farley, S.D., Timme, D.R., & Hart, J.W. (2010) On coffee talk and break-rom chatter: Perceptions of women who gossip in the workplace. The Journal of Psychology, 150(4), 1-8.
Grosser, T.J., Lopez-Kidwell, V., & LaBianca, G. (2010). A social network analysis of positive and negative gossip in organizational life. Group and Organization Management 35(2), 177-212
Grosser, T.J., Lopez-Kidwell, V., & La Bianca, G. (2013) Hearing it through the grapevine: Positive and negative workplace gossip. Organisational Dynamics, 41, 2-61.