Everyone loves a bit of gossip, I’m sure we’ve all taken part in an office gossip session at some point in our lives. You know the kind I’m talking about… Did you hear about Luke in accounting? What’s wrong with Sarah in sales, she’s been really moody lately? It seems to be a great Aussie past time, but what happens when that little bit of gossip starts to kill your company culture?

I’m sure most people would probably be rolling their eyes at that statement, how could a little bit of gossip really kill a company’s culture? It’s a harmless pastime, everyone does it and it can provide a little bit of entertainment gossipvalue in an otherwise boring day. There are even some who believe a bit of office gossiping can help with the strengthening of a team and build strong bonds between workers. I agree, this may be true in some instances, maybe management have changed the toilet paper to 1 ply again (yes this has happened to me), or maybe the cafeteria has changed their menu and no longer provides your favourite meals… (Yes, also happened to me). In these instances the gossiping or “chatter” between workers brought the team together and gave them an outlet for their objections. No, the culture killing kind of gossip I’m talking about is the malicious type created by people, passed on by people, and believed by people who have no firsthand knowledge of the situation they are talking about. In other words…. Rumours.

I have read a number of blogs lately on office gossip and they all referred back to a study conducted on behalf of the Georgia Institute of Technology (‘Georgia Tech’) in Atlanta, Georgia. The study defined ‘gossip’ as messages that contain information or comments about a person or persons not among the recipients of the email. It found that employees sent an average of 112 emails a day, of which 14.7% could be classified as containing gossip. The researchers reached the following conclusions about all that gossipness:

  1. Gossip has four main purposes: information, entertainment, intimacy and influence.
  2. Gossip is “all-pervasive” and is common at every level of an organisation.
  3. Low-level employees play a lead role in circulating gossip throughout the entire hierarchy.
  4. Gossip is as frequent in personal communications as it is in formal ones.
  5. Emails targeting a smaller audience are more likely to contain gossip.
  6. Some employees are constant “gossip sources” while others are merely “silent readers.”
  7. Gossip is 2.7 times more likely to be negative than positive.

Another blog on Workplaceinfo.com.au outlined the reasons why some people engage in gossip, these included:

  • To create bonds between colleagues
  • To establish informal influence
  • To deal with anxiety and stress at work
  • To relieve boredom
  • Putting down a colleague to feel better about oneself
  • Taking ‘revenge’ on people who humiliate, offend, dismiss or talk down to you
  • To get attention
  • To eliminate the competition by gossiping about others

The four most potentially damaging words to a company culture or even your professional career are ‘did you hear about …?’ Who in their right mind would want to be seen as an untrustworthy, indiscrete employee? Gossip fosters a negative attitude and atmosphere, within the workplace. It is all too easy for any workplace or office to slide into a gossip habit. Gossip breeds gossip, and an atmosphere where employees know that anyone could be the subject of the next scandalous and, usually, untrue gossip.

My word of advice, rise above it, work out what is fact and what is fiction and follow the words of one of my favourite quotes “If you didn’t see it with your eyes, or hear it with your ears, don’t spread it with your mouth” it’s probably just a rumour!

Nyssa Hurt – Corporate Services Manager

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