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The Workplace Saboteur: The menace of workplace gossip and strategies to combat it

January 8, 2024

Gossip can threaten the very fabric of an organization’s workplace culture. As a legal professional and workplace investigator living in the trenches of investigating workplace conduct, one thing rings true as ever: it is important that employers grasp the gravity of workplace gossip. While it can often masquerade as harmless banter, when left unchecked, it can become a destructive force. Gossip results in workplace bullying and harassment complaints, erodes trust between employees and undermines workplace morale.

Gossip vs Harmless Banter

Gossip is a subtle but powerful catalyst that creates toxicity within an organization. It transcends casual conversation when it veers into false rumors or malicious intent.

If a discussion in the workplace is effectively building camaraderie, belonging and social interaction, then that is an example of chit chat or harmless banter.

Gossip, on the other hand, destroys relationships and jeopardizes the psychological safety of the work environment.

If we accept that we are all guardians of workplace harmony, then we all have a role to play in preventing the spread of gossip.

What can employers and HR managers do to prevent gossip in the workplace?

There are several mechanisms that employers and HR managers can implement to help combat gossip and clarify and set organizational expectations, such as:

  • ensuring a culture of transparency, where employees feel comfortable addressing concerns through a formal channel rather than resorting to whispers of gossip.
  • having a clear and comprehensive Respectful Workplace Policy that addresses gossip and the repercussions of engaging in it.
  • training employees on the dangers of workplace gossip, what is and is not acceptable when it comes to workplace discussions, and what toxic grapevine chatter looks like.

For employers, the impact of unchecked gossip isn’t merely confined to the office.  It impacts the bottom line. Reduced productivity, escalated conflicts, increased absenteeism, and workplace complaints that could result in costly investigations, are among the tangible consequences of a workplace weighed down by gossip.

What can employees do to prevent gossip in the workplace?

Employees have a pivotal role in breaking the vicious cycle of gossip.  For employees navigating the sometimes-treacherous landscape of office conversations, a cautious approach is imperative.

  • A simple and helpful litmus test is to consider whether the conversation contributes positively to the workplace or relationships. This can help discern between harmless chatter and potentially harmful gossip. Ask yourself the questions in the adage, ‘Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?’
  • Refrain from engaging in the gossip and abstain from lending an ear to such conversations.
  • When in doubt, exercising restraint and discretion is the best approach.


Employers can bolster these efforts by cultivating an environment where open dialogue is encouraged, grievances are addressed quickly, and employees are incentivized to contribute positively to the organizational culture. Encouraging team-building activities, fostering a culture of recognition, and promoting a zero-tolerance policy towards gossip are vital in curbing its destructive effects.

By embracing transparency, having strong policies, and nurturing a culture of respect and collaboration, organizations can minimize if not prevent gossip. These strategies will pave the way for a workplace where productivity thrives, relationships flourish, and individuals feel safe to contribute their best efforts.

Remember, gossip may seem harmless, but the repercussions of it can be devastating for individuals and organizations.

Perhaps the adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words shall never hurt me” isn’t as accurate as it seems.