Office gossipRecently, I was in a meeting with a member of my team. As I was leaving the office, this person made an off-handed comment about someone on my senior staff not being in the office often. The implication was that the executive was getting privileges no one else was receiving and that this person was not on top of things.

This got me angry for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s not true. Perception is not reality.
  1. I work very hard at fostering a positive team environment, and this works counter to the culture of my businesses.
  1. I don’t like negative gossip. Period.

I bet you’ve been in this situation before as a manager, haven’t you?

Want to know what I did?

I immediately shut it down.

No one is going to speak in my company about the other people of my team with negative connotations. I don’t like nor care about gossip. I believe it’s a cancer and once you let gossip seep into your organization, you get a number of things happening:

  • Perception becomes reality – so in the case of my senior team member, what this specific individual who made the remark does not see is that the executive works late hours and on weekends. In fact, this person is always “on.” We have team members in other parts of the world, and this executive is communicating in different time zones when everyone else, including the person who made the comment, is sleeping.
  • The cancer spreads – often times when a manager realizes there is harmful gossip, it’s already spread. It’s much more difficult at that point to change the dynamic that exists. Gossip breeds cultural disease. It’s not fair to the person who is being gossiped about, and it’s not fair to the team. It breaks down positive team dynamics, and it sets a terrible precedent. Once gossip is accepted as part of the culture, guess what happens? You get more gossip.

If you’re a manager or leader, there are strategies you can use to nip gossip in the bud.

Do not tolerate gossip – When the comment was made to me, I immediately shut it down. I have a zero tolerance policy on gossip. I don’t want to hear gossip as I’m walking around the offices. I don’t want to hear through the grapevine about gossip. I don’t accept it as a matter of course in a professional business setting.

As I mentioned to the person who made the negative comment, if you are going to gossip, well then you’re going to have a choice. You will gossip and work elsewhere, or you will not gossip and work with me. That’s the choice. By making it crystal clear and then reiterating this point in my executive team meeting that same week, I made sure everyone in management understood the policy.

If you hear it, say something – If you find out someone broke the gossip policy, as a leader, it’s your job to address it with the person who gossiped immediately. That becomes the most important thing you do that day. You have to remind the person of the no-gossip policy. You then have to help this individual understand the destructive force that negative gossip has within an organization. In my case, I articulated very clearly that this individual’s perception of my executive was patently false. This person had made false assumptions, and since this particular employee and the senior team member did not have to interact often during the business day, it was inconceivable for this person to really understand the amount of work the executive was doing.

I think we have a problem in our country. We seem to think that face time in the office equates to productivity. Here’s a lesson–that’s not true. I’ve known people who’ve shown up and were simply what I call “clock punchers.” They worked their hours, put in the face time, but their productivity was very low. Then I’ve had others who work from different places remotely and are available and pushing forward whenever I ask for something.

Speak to the person who gossiped in private and in confidence. But make it a point to speak to him or her immediately and clearly.

Turn gossip into a positive – Sometimes gossip is based on some kernel of truth. Let’s say you do have a slacker in your midst. A highly productive team is only as good as its weakest link. If you find that your team is operating with a lot of gossip, then set up a reporting system free of any repercussions. This type of system does have to be managed very carefully. But, it help in situations where there is rampant gossip.

Create an anonymous reporting system whereby feedback from your employees–positive or negative–is solicited. Be clear with your team what you will do and how you will address all matters. Obviously, you don’t know what people will report, but you can be clear about how things will be handled so people have faith in the process.


Author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: Grip & Rip Leadership for Social Impact” (Free Digital Download)


© 2016 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.