The real cost of workplace gossip

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“The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”
-Dorothy Nevill

Gossip in the workplace is common and most of us have engaged in it at one time or another. But workplace gossip causes a great deal of harm and impacts both the individuals involved, and the organization as a whole.

Here are just a few examples of the cost of workplace gossip:

    Lost productivity and wasted time.
    Morale and trust are eroded.
    Increased anxiety as rumors circulate without any clear indication of what’s true.
    Divisiveness tends to grow among employees as people may “take sides”.
    Feelings and reputations are hurt, sometimes causing severe damage.
    The “gossipers” may jeopardize their own advancement.
    Good employees may leave the company due to the unhealthy work atmosphere.

The truth is, in Human Resources, there’s no such thing as “talking off of the record.” We may feel, as leaders, that we have some element of trust–which is good–but only when it’s used for positive intentions. “Off the record” insinuates a negative connotation–to me it screams “gossip is coming; will you engage in this conversation with me?”

If you are approached with the “can we have an off the record conversation” an appropriate response would be “I’d be happy to help you, but I cannot keep the matter confidential if it has to do with discrimination or harassment, potential violence, or a potential conflict of interest with our company’s interests. In those cases, I will have a duty to act–an affirmative obligation–to disclose what you tell me to other members of management.”

Another good rule of thumb to avoid conversations that may require a “duty to act” is to avoid the elevators. Allow me to explain “Elevator Gossip”:

You step into the elevator and overhear two other riders talking about someone else in a conspiratorial manner. You may or may not know the person they are discussing. The “idle gossip” may arouse your curiosity and you might find yourself straining to hear more of the conversation (and what you do hear might make you wince). If you avoid the elevator and take the stairs, you’ll be less likely to hear gossip and you’ll get in a mini-workout at the same time.

It’s always a good idea to step back and ask yourself several questions when you are tempted to participate in rumors or gossip:

    Is what I am about to say true?
    Is it harmless?
    Is it necessary?
    How would I feel if someone said something similar about me?
    How would I feel if I saw my words quoted in the daily paper tomorrow?
    How am I going to feel later if I say this? (or listen to this)
    Does gossiping honor my own personal values?

Much is to be gained by turning down the opportunity to gossip while at work–and it’s not as hard as you might think. With conscious effort and conviction, you can do your part to derail the harmful effects of destructive gossip and keep the work environment healthy and happy for all.

About Dr. Lynea Diane LaVoy

Dr. Lynea LaVoy has been in customer service and the learning industry for over 18 years. Chosen in 2011 by Madison’s InBusiness Magazine as “40 under 40”, Dr. LaVoy is currently a full-time manager of Training and Development at TDS Telecommunications Corp., a communications professor at Edgewood College, and a student at Regis University (earning a MS in Organizational Leadership). In 2011, Dr. LaVoy received the Distinguished Part-Time Faculty Award from Edgewood College for her dedication to teaching excellence, mentoring and guiding students, and involvement in the community. Lynea spends her free time volunteering for Junior Achievement, advocating for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and reading up on the hottest business trends affecting leadership and learning. Follow on G+.

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