Let's face it. We're living in a society that's fascinated, if not obsessed, with the private lives of other people. As much as you may want to deny it, you know you've looked at the National Enquirer more than once -- even if it was just while you were waiting in the grocery store checkout line. You've also got to admit that you've even gossiped a time or two about people you actually know.

But do you sometimes feel that you're dealing with a bunch of middle-school students rather than a workforce made up of adults? Workplace gossip can cause a host of problems, not only for the individual employees involved but also for your organization as a whole. What, if anything, can be done about gossipmongers among our workforce?

There are numerous problems created by workplace gossip. If staff memebers are spending a significant amount of time gathered around the water cooler gossiping about their coworkers or your organization in general, they obviously aren't working. In today's world, chats around the water cooler likely have been replaced by e-mail or instant messaging, both quick and easy ways to communicate with colleagues. No matter how it's done, gossip decreases productivity in your workplace. Simply put, gossip is a productivity drain: If you're gossiping, you're not working.

In addition to distracting employees from their work, gossip can cause problems between coworkers. Certainly, the person who's the subject of the rumors may be reluctant to work with people he believes are participating in the gossip. Also, employees may take sides and form cliques (just like in middle school). All of that may result in the breakdown of the trust level among your employees and the demise of teamwork. Management, in turn, may be spending way too much time dealing with conflicts among employees, causing additional stress for everyone.

How else might gossip affect your workplace? It could very well provide key evidence of other unlawful conduct like harassment or discrimination. Thus, gossip could increase your exposure to legal liability.

Malicious gossip also can lead to employee turnover. Whether you have many gossipers in your workplace or perhaps only a few, the good employees-----those who don't partake in chatter----may find the work atmosphere unhealthy or stressful. As a result, they might very well decide to leave the organization.

Finally, employee gossip may be directed at the organization itself rather than at specific coworkers. Workplace gossip may cause miscommunications or misunderstandings, which in turn could lead to missed deadlines, work errors, and unhappy clients and customers.