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Office Gossip Kills Organizational Culture

Venting = office gossip

I had a colleague at my last job, prior to starting Candid Culture, who was a peer and a friend. We were at a similar level and would periodically sit in one of our offices, with the door closed, engaging in office gossip, talking about the bad decisions our company’s senior leaders made. One day I realized that these conversations were exhausting to me. They were negative and didn’t make me feel better. In fact, they made me feel worse.

Some people distinguish between office gossip and venting, asserting that venting is cathartic and makes people feel better. It doesn’t. Venting and office gossip are one in the same and both will make you tired and feel worse about your job and organization.

I’ll use an analogy I read in one of Deepak Chopra’s books. When you put a plant in the closet and don’t give it light or water, it withers and dies. When you put a plant in the sunlight and water it, it grows. And the same is true for people. Wherever you put your attention will get bigger and stronger. Whatever you deprive attention will become smaller.

In addition to draining you of energy and ensuring you focus on the things that frustrate you, office gossip kills organizations’ cultures. If employees can’t trust that their peers won’t talk about them when they’re not there, there is no trust in the organization. And this lack of trust feels terrible. It makes employees nervous and paranoid. A lack of trust sucks the enjoyment out of working because we feel we have to continuously watch our back.

Office gossip isn’t going anywhere. It’s a human phenomenon and is here to stay. But you can reduce office gossip.

Here are five steps to reduce the office gossip in your workplace:

Reducing gossip in the workplace step one:  Address the gossip head on.

Tell your employees, “I’ve been hearing a lot of gossip, which is not good for our culture.”

Reducing gossip in the workplace step two:  Hold regular town hall meetings, and give employees more information than you think you need to about initiatives, organizational changes, profitability, etc. Employees want to know how the organization is  doing and what they can do to contribute. In the absence of knowledge, people make stuff up, not because they’re malicious, but because they have a need to know. Employees don’t have to fill in the gaps with office gossip when you inform them.

Reducing gossip in the workplace step three:  Create a no-gossip-in-the-workplace policy.

Tell your employees, “We want people talking directly to each other, rather than about each other. As a result, we’re putting a no-gossip policy in place.”

Reducing gossip in the workplace step four:  Draw attention to gossip.

Perhaps suggest, “Every time you hear gossip, wave two fingers in the air (or something else that’s equally visual).” This will draw attention to office gossip without calling anyone out.

Also, ask your peers and friends not to gossip with you. End conversations that contain gossip. This will be hard to do, but if everyone does it, it will become much easier.”

Reducing gossip in the workplace step five:  Have an agreed-upon consequence for gossip.

Tell employees, “Every time we hear gossip in the workplace, the gossiper owes a dollar. Every quarter the gossipers will buy the office lunch from the office gossip jar.”

The keys to reducing office gossip are to draw attention to the gossip, have a consequence for gossiping, and over communicate so your employees don’t have to fill in the gaps themselves.

Venting and office gossip are the same. If you’re talking about someone else, unless you’re planning a conversation with a coworker or friend to address a challenge or problem, you’re gossiping. And talking about what frustrates you will only make you more frustrated.

My advice:  Do something about the things you can impact and let the other stuff go. Talk about the things that matter to you. Resist the temptation to speak negatively about the people around you. And know that anyone who will gossip about someone to you, will also gossip about you.

Negative Feedback


Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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12 Responses to “Office Gossip Kills Organizational Culture”

  1. Susie Reeder says:

    Fabulous article! SPOT ON~~
    I plan to share this with my staff today!

  2. Roxy Kolev says:

    Thanks for the tip.

  3. MARY SPENCER says:

    I am unsure I agree, sometimes it is good to vent just like on the watered plant there will be areas that are dead and need trimming to get rid of the bad, mindful venting is getting rid of the negativity and sometimes the release of that bad is by speaking it. (As long as it is mindful)

    • Shari Harley says:

      Hi Mary, Thanks for reading the blog and posting your comment. All of my stuff is gray — try it and see if it works for you. Perhaps try, as an experiment, not venting in situations when in the past you might, and see if anything is lost/missing and how it feels. Everything I talk and write about is trial and error. I’d love to hear how it goes!

  4. Barbara says:

    Thank you Shari. Fantastic treatment of topic we all personally struggle with in one way or another.

  5. Sherry says:

    Thanks for a great article Shari! It’s easy to get caught up in office gossip and although we all know at some level it’s not a positive thing, it’s very tempting to engage. Thank you for the constructive tips!

  6. Cindy says:

    Thanks, Shari-great advice! I especially found the part about over communicating interesting… perhaps leaders need to take notice-especially as organizations restructure…one of the worse things to do for the culture is to not openly communicate during times of chaos…the imagination can run away!

  7. Louise says:

    Shari – great ideas, thank you. After reading the blog I remembered a song that I was taught at an early age. I think it goes like this – “Gossip, gossip, evil thing, much unhappiness it brings. If you can’t say something nice, don’t talk at all is my advice!”

  8. Jen says:

    I just wanted to say, thank you. Thank you for taking the time to write such insightful and helpful blog posts. Not all are taught, or have learned, how to conduct themselves in a positive way (or we forget along the way). We need people like you; people willing to teach and share. Thank you for “speaking” to me today and giving me helpful tools to build my culture with. 🙂

  9. Candace says:

    I shared this with my staff at our team meeting this week. We had a great discussion about it and everyone appreciated this important reminder. Thank you as always for sharing your insight and providing these great supports.

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