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It is so tempting. Your colleagues are hovered around the Keurig sharing the latest news about the new girl in accounting:
“She was out partying so late last night.”
“I bet she has a problem, like, with drinking or something.”
“Do you guys think this is why she got fired from her last job?”
And you just want to hop in and join them. This is good stuff! In fact, you overheard her having a fight with someone on her cell phone, so you can contribute something new, maybe even juicy. You can be the center of attention for a few moments. You are in the know. You will seem so important!
Whenever you feel this way – STOP! There is absolutely no upside to engaging in office gossip, except possibly to endear yourself to other office gossips, and believe me, that is not the crowd you want to run with. There are a multitude of reasons not to join this particular conversation. Here are the top five.
5 Reasons to Never Gossip at Work
1. It’s None of Your Business
What your co-workers do on their own time is their business. Period. If something you’ve heard about them might affect your job performance (not theirs, unless you are their direct supervisor) or endanger the company, then speak to the person directly, without judgment, to ascertain the facts and see what can be done to fix the situation. Don’t discuss it with anyone else unless you or the company are experiencing negative consequences, and even then, only in the context of addressing a specific problem and only with the one or two people whose job it is to handle it. For anything else you’ve seen or heard, give everyone their privacy, just as you would want yours, which leads us to…
2. People Will Talk About You
When you engage in office gossip, you open yourself up much more to being the subject of it. Think about what you’re saying about another person. Now picture that same conversation happening about you in the break room or the bathroom when you aren’t around. There are practical applications to the adage, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” The more you judge, the more you open yourself to the judgment of others, and since none of us are without flaws and stumbles, why put yourself in that position?
3. You’ll Be Seen as Untrustworthy
Whenever I am around someone who is spilling someone else’s secrets, I never think, “Oh, this is good – tell me more!” I always make a mental note: “Never tell this person anything you don’t want broadcast throughout the company.” In the workplace, information has value and power. The more people can trust you with their information, the farther you can go, and the more value you can bring to yourself and your employer. Why destroy that possibility by letting people know they can’t trust you? I once worked in an office where I was assigned an assistant, Agnes (not her real name), and before the end of her first day with me, the office manager came by my desk to warn me to be careful about what I shared with her. I’ll never forget what she said: “If you want everyone to know something, you can telegraph, telephone or tell Agnes.” Trust me, that is the reputation you do not want among your colleagues.
4. You Might Be Wrong
Think about how small and horrible you’ll feel after telling everyone that Bob’s wife is leaving him when you discover that she was just out of town taking care of her sick mother. Even if gossip is true, you don’t want to share it, but it is especially damaging when it’s not true. Also, spreading something untrue about a co-worker that affects their job in any way – a loss of promotion, firing, etc. – subjects you to a lawsuit for slander. And if you put it in writing (including email and text messages, which are never fully erased and much easier to subpoena than you think), that becomes libel. Better safe (and silent) than sorry!
5. Gossip Creates a Toxic Work Environment
According to Gallup, American companies lose $450-550 billion a year (yes, billion) solely as a result of unhappiness in the workplace. Unhappy employees are more likely to call in sick, quit without notice, steal, engage in workplace violence, file a workers compensation claim, and a slew of other bad outcomes, and one of the chief causes of unhappiness is a toxic work environment. Gossip leads to toxicity. It creates a culture of fear and mistrust and makes everyone less happy at work. The person who is the subject of the gossip feels ridiculed and embarrassed and everyone else sees that they have to watch their backs. None of this allows for creativity, efficiency or just plain fun. When I consult with companies on how to lower costs, increase productivity and maximize profits by making happiness a priority in the workplace, I always include a training unit on how to counsel, control, curb (and, if needed, can) the toxic employees. Companies save millions just by weeding out those who are poisoning the workplace, and you do not want to be the person they’re all looking at. Being the office gossip puts you on that list.
These are my top five reasons for keeping someone else’s juicy news to yourself. If you have others, please share them in the comments below. Together, we can build happy, productive workplaces where everyone is empowered to do their best.