You may think of workplace gossip as harmless water-cooler talk, but in reality, it can potentially destroy your office. There are several forms of it, from staff making catty remarks about fellow employees to the workers complaining to each other about workplace policies. All of it can tear a team apart instead of bringing them together.

Radio host Dave Ramsey defines workplace gossip as any negative talk about the workplace that is discussed with somebody who cannot fix the issue. For example, a co-worker gripes to an office friend about her boss, or the computer technician complains to an underling about the computer budget. While it may seem like no big deal, there are several reasons why workplace gossip can be destructive:

  • It’s two-faced: talking about people and situations behind others’ back will almost never have positive results. Imagine if you find out that your co-worker is complaining to others about the way you do your job, or your boss finds out that you have negative things to say about her. What will your reaction be?
  • It rips teams apart: Instead of working towards a common goal, gossip will tear the team apart, causing negativity and dissent instead of different people finding common ground.
  • It doesn’t fix anything: How can managers fix any issues if it is not brought to their attention? Whatever steam that gets let off with workplace gossip is temporary. But the problems that such gossip can cause will fester and cause ongoing problems.

So how can employers stop such workplace gossip? A growing number of companies have decided to ban it, and punish those who engage in it. It sounds unrealistic, but it actually can make a difference when it comes to stopping this insidious practice.

Things companies do that contribute to workplace gossip

Having an office policy against gossip doesn’t mean that people have to shut up and put up with problems. Just the opposite, in fact. Instead, they are encouraged to get problems fixed by talking to their management about them, instead of whining to others who don’t really want to hear about it anyway.

Ramsey says that unfortunately, some employers can inadvertently cause workplace gossip to fester by not listening enough to their staff, and ignoring their issues. Instead, he recommends that employers have an open-door policy, when workers are encouraged to bring problems up the chain instead of griping to people who can’t fix the issue. In return, employers listen to their staff’s concern, fix them, and send the solutions down.

Here’s how it would work in practice. A computer coder who has too big a workload to efficiently complete his tasks each day should tell his boss about the issue. Then the supervisor can look into the situation and try to come up with solutions.

But without a workplace anti-gossip policy, and without a boss willing to resolve the issue, things will get worse. The coder will complain to co-workers about how the manager just won’t listen. And others will think twice about talking to the boss about problems and will instead complain amongst themselves, and before you know it, the supervisor has lost authority in the workplace. That’s why it is not enough to have such a policy; management also needs to be proactive and receptive to resolving issues.

Career coach experts say that another positive about having an anti-gossip policy is that it will also stop the kind of gossip which has nothing to do with getting the job done, like speculating about or mocking others’ personal lives.

So why not think about establishing a policy in your workplace against gossip? It could not only help resolve problems but it can help your team have a more cohesive bond.