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Office Gossip: The Pros and Cons

Office gossip is irresistible. Most of us find it entertaining in a perverse way, especially when it involves somebody we don’t like. And in a time of great uncertainty and anxiety — like the time we’re in now — gossip is hard to avoid.

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Office gossip is irresistible. Most of us find it entertaining in a perverse way, especially when it involves somebody we don’t like. And in a time of great uncertainty and anxiety — like the time we’re in now — gossip is hard to avoid.

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A recent survey by The Creative Group, a staffing firm for advertising and marketing professionals, confirms that office gossip is pretty routine. Of the accounting and marketing executives surveyed, 84% called the gossip habit common.

More than half (63%) said that gossip has a negative impact on the workplace. Employees who are insecure about their job security, for example, might spread rumors about a coworker as a way to feel more secure. Then team morale and cohesiveness go down the toilet.

But can gossip sometimes be helpful? With the tanking economy and looming layoffs, employee gossip might help people bond and feel a little better in the midst of anxiety. Especially when it focuses on general rumors, not malice directed at a particular employee. Office gossip can help a new hire fit in, alert management to problems, prevent awkward situations, and humanize the  boss. For more, check out “Office Gossip Can Be Productive.”

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In general, it’s best to avoid gossip. The Creative Group offers some tips on how managers can minimize gossip and its harm:

Check in. Have regular one-on-one meetings with staff members, and encourage them to share concerns in an informal setting.

Keep doors open. Anxiety among team members goes up when managers meet often behind closed doors and speak in hushed tones. Maximize your accessibility. Discuss sensitive matters in a less visible environment.

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Lead by example. Avoid saying something about an employee that you wouldn’t say in person to that employee. Let others know you expect the same from them.

I will add another reason why not to gossip about coworkers: It often reflects most poorly on you, not the object of the gossip. Once you damage your standing among people who hear you gossip, you could threaten your advancement. (For more, see “Stop the Gossip, Save Your Career.”)