Gossip in the workplace is a problem most places of employment are plagued with at some point. Some workplaces are weighed down with incessant gossip while others just have the occasional juicy tidbit passed around. Either way, at some point, chances are the gossip bug is going to bite, and sometimes that bite is hard enough to cause a lot of trouble.

Regardless of the frequency of when the gossip occurs, depending on the type of story going around, it can fast lead to problems in the workplace. Casual conversation is a normal activity in the workplace, and it is human nature to be curious about colleagues. The problem arises when friendly conversation evolves into dangerous areas that teeter on the edge of harming others through excessive inquisitiveness or crafting rumors through assumptions; then gossip becomes a true affliction.

Unfortunately, some people can't seem to pull themselves away from the gossip mill and perpetuate the stories they hear, creating an infestation of negativity. The originators of the tales are the worst offenders because they either typically break confidences, elaborate and embellish truth or outright lie and make up tales about colleagues.

Where Does the Line Between Conversation and Gossip Collide?

Gossip and conversation collide when people cross the proverbial line. From time to time, people like to talk about things other than shop. Ordinarily there is nothing wrong with this as it is a natural tendency to want to have conversation with colleagues as it breaks up the tedium of the work day and people can get to know one another better. However sometimes that line is crossed and, at that point, the gossip becomes troubling.

Watercooler conference
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"Watercooler gossip" can create problems in the workplace.

How can gossip be troubling? Problematic issues caused by negative talk can:

Create Disruption

Gossip has a strong tendency to disrupt the flow of the workday. A little gossip now and then perhaps won't harm job performance, however persistent indulging in gossip will begin to cause serious interruption and, over time, begin to impact productivity.

If the situation evolves into one where staff members rally around the break room to exchange tidbits or continue the previous day's gossip, this is going to harm daily efficiency and eventually hurt the company's profitability. Idle conversation that serves no purpose is a fruitless endeavor.

Stress is a natural reaction to persistent gossip and this can lead to morale problems, negative environment or even a toxic work atmosphere. There are many different ways gossip can cause problems in the workplace. Those engaging in negative gossip can cause conflict between colleagues, management, or give an unrealistic appearance to customers.

Cause Workplace Misunderstandings

Whether or not rumors are true, misunderstandings can emerge from gossip. It need not matter if these stories are truth or fiction, because either way the result ends up about the same. Rumors and stories tend to evolve as they travel the gossip trail and, by the end of the road, the story may not even remotely resemble the initial conversation. Yet, it still perpetuates.

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Gossip has a tendency to spread, and then spread some more. It is not uncommon to find the origins of the stories become shadowy and unclear. Yet, in some cases, that still doesn't stop gossip from spreading.

Along the way, chances are something is going to be misunderstood and this can yield preconceived notions, wrong impressions or lead to even worse rumors. Gossip mills are much like the old game of telephone. The other end of the line does not align with the initial story.

As for preconceived notions, gossip has a strong tendency to overshadow the truth. Eventually, perception becomes so far off-base the truth is unrecognizable. When this happens, people are either unfairly judged or company decisions are skewered; the latter can lead to corporate rumors and, as a result, people get stressed out for no good reason.

Ruin Professional Reputations

When it comes to a person's reputation, gossip often has negative consequences for his or her professional appearance. Those at the center of the gossip mill can receive irreparable damage to their reputation. Additionally, this can pose a negative reputation of the company if the rumors escape the walls of the workplace.

Create a Negative Impact on a Company’s Good Standing

Depending on the nature of the rumor, the press, an Internet blogger or other interested party may also propagate (albeit unintentionally) the rumor if the story is taken as truth. Even if there is a basis of truth present in the gossip, this can still do damage to the company if the information is unflattering. In this kind of situation, profitability can be seriously harmed which would be a huge problem for the business. This is an area which should concern management as it can interfere with goals and objectives.

In a 2013 article, Forbes notes five ways a new manager can use to stop negative office gossip. [1] (but this can apply to any leadership in theory).

  • Directly address perpetrators who get the gossip mill going
  • Have a team meeting
  • Encourage positive interactions, not negative
  • Lead by example

Gossip in the workplace has a tendency to cause significant problems. It can hurt someone's feelings or harm professional reputations. No one likes to be the subject of gossip. It is important people are able to draw appropriate lines of conversation and avoid negative gossip that causes problems at work.

It is also important to keep in mind, not all gossip is bad gossip. According to an October 2014 Wall Street Journal report research shows positive talk can actually ease other issues occurring in the workplace. It is the negative type is something that should not be started, encouraged, perpetrated or tolerated - in the end no one really wins.

Not to mention it is a waste of everyone's time.

Gossip/Telephone conversation
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