How to limit gossip and its impacts in the workplace

Managers must be aware of, and manage, careless talk in the workplace – how does this come about, and how can its effects be reduced?

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Management Today

If the petrol crisis confirmed anything, it’s the danger of rumours being perceived as fact. As we return to the office it’s important to look at what to do prevent gossip in this traditional hotbed. However, research on gossip, basedon the responses of 22,000 shift workers, suggests that 55% of workers get ‘most’ of their information from the grapevine that and up to 90% of is ‘correct’.

“Office gossips are overly social,” says Oliver James, psychologist and author of Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks. With their natural sociability, he continues, it’s easy for rumours to spread and untrue information become embellished. James suggests managers need to try and  understand why these people might be doing it  – often ‘confirmation bias’ has a part to play – in order to best stop it at source.

A quiet word can often be enough, but misinformation becomes dangerous when it involves fake news about the business which could leak out to clients. In some cases, could managers themselves even be to blame for such rumours taking off? “Rumour swilling around is often symptomatic of bad management,” says Ben Watson, managing director of employee communications agency, Blue Goose. It’s when this is not addressed that staff can begin to lose respect and trust in their bosses.

What to do to calm rumours

  • All wrong statements are noted and correct versions of events are issued. 
  • Attempt to understand why a rumour has started. Why are staff are coming to certain conclusions?
  • Identify the source – who’s spreading the gossip? When you’ve found them be firm and clear that it is causing distress and must stop immediately.
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