Posted on January 18, 2016

Ask HR: How Do We Address Gossip in the Office?

Gossip can run rampant almost anywhere, especially during challenging or changing times. What's an HR professional to do when gossip gets out of control at work? Our pals at HR Support Center have some advice.

Question:

What’s the best way to address gossip in the workplace? It’s getting out of hand at our office.

Answer from Sarah, HR Pro:

Office gossip can quickly become harmful to your business and your workers, so it’s best to take a comprehensive approach and respond quickly to complaints. When possible, be proactive. Here are a few recommendations:

* Address office gossip in your employee handbook, either by name or by prohibiting any conduct that creates a hostile, offensive, or intimidating work environment. Just make sure your policy is not overly broad or might violate an employee’s rights under section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

* Discuss the issue of gossip during team meetings and especially with management, who should set the right example for everyone.

* Train employees to recognize when they are gossiping and why they shouldn’t gossip in the office. Provide them with ways to remove themselves from a conversation or to direct a conversation back to company-related work. You may want to consider seminars or workshops if the gossip persists.

* Implement a clear, simple process for employees to inform you when malicious gossip or other harassment has occurred and for you to respond immediately to complaints.

It is also important to take a look at the subject matter of the gossip to determine if a bigger issue is at work. Gossip frequently increases, for example, when a company undergoes a big change and management is shy about the details. In a case such as this, over-communicating both the good and the bad to employees helps to eliminate the guessing and creative conspiracy theories that employees invent when management has passed on few substantial facts.

No employer can eliminate gossip completely, but by taking a comprehensive approach to gossip and to any issues underlying it, you can address the matter before it creates liability, hurts morale, or increases turnover.

Sarah, HR Pro*Sarah has extensive Human Resources experience in the legal, software, security and property preservation industries. She has a Business Communications degree from Villa Julie College (now Stevenson University) and a master’s certificate in Human Resources Management and a Strategic Organizational Leadership certification from Villa Nova University. Sarah is also a member of the National Society of Human Resources Management and has managed the HR function for small startup companies to mid-sized/large organizations.*


Lack of communication during changing times is one reason gossip is spread. Does your organization have effective change management processes in place? Learn more about managing change effectively by downloading our Change Management whitepaper.