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Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.

Not all conversations at work happen around a conference table or at a formal meeting.  Instead, the more juicy chats tend to occur around the water cooler, at happy hour, or in the hallways.

No matter the culture or employees’ happiness levels, every office has gossip.

Gossip – What Is and Isn’t

Gossip is generally defined as casual talk about others that may not be true.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects the rights of employees to talk about workplace-related topics, including wages and working conditions.  What is not covered by the NLRA are conversations that intend to harm another person with false information on issues outside of work.

Business leaders need to know that allowing gossip may cause you to run afoul of the law.

The tricky part, however, is what is and isn’t true (false information).

True and Not True

For many employees, connecting with friends and coworkers is a big part of the appeal of coming to work.  In a healthy workplace, colleagues feel interested in each others’ lives and are excited to share news with one another.

But, as we all know, employee communication can take a turn for the worse if employees begin spreading rumors, targeting certain employees with behind-the-back complaints, or simply breeding a culture of mistrust and negativity by always complaining and speculating.

The balance for business leaders and entrepreneurs is finding the line between casual talk and gossip.

The main thing that sets gossip apart from other forms of communication is that it makes other employees feel bad — unwelcome, alienated, targeted — or aims to damage their reputation.  In this way, gossip falls into the same type of discouraged behaviors as bullying, rudeness, and harassment.

Any messaging, talk, or communication that makes employees feel this way shouldn’t be allowed in your place of business.  And it’s worth noting that this behavior should be against company policy, whether live at the office or online.

Stopping Gossip

  1. Company Policy to Combat Gossip – Your employee handbook should address gossip.  The policy should acknowledge that the company does not intend to limit employee rights to talk about wages, hours, or working conditions as protected by the NLRA.  Instead, the focus of the policy is on non-work-related issues.
  2. Keep the Door Open – Keeping communication transparent and open allows trust to grow organically.
  3. Address the Behavior Directly – When issues come to your attention, those gossiping should be told their behavior is not in line with the company’s code of conduct, and further violations may result in disciplinary action.
  4. Your Example is Your Best Tool – The best way to prevent gossip is to be a positive role model.  Never spread rumors and avoid criticizing others.  In fact, do the opposite: spread positive gossip.  Leaders who demonstrate integrity and positivity inspire others to do the same.

The Bible

Ephesians 4:29 says,

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Furthermore Proverbs 6:16-19 says,

 There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17         haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18         a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19         a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

For the Bible, the issue of gossip is what is the spirit behind the gossip.

Basically, gossip has two driving factors: judgment and a desire to be first.

When we engage in gossip, we are passing judgment on another person.  Furthermore, we often want to be the first to share juicy details about someone else’s life because it makes us feel important.

The spirit behind gossip is both harmful and hurtful.  

It is important to remember that words can break someone’s spirit just as quickly as they can build them up.  Next time you’re tempted to gossip, take a step back and consider the impact your words might have.  Instead of tearing someone down, try building them up.