Dear New Shrink,

I have worked at my current job for the past eight months. Over this time I feel like there has been more and more gossip in my office. My cubicle is at the end of the hall so others tend to come to my end of the office to whisper and complain since there are few people right around me. So far, none of the gossip has been negative about other people but more about things around the office like our boss never being there and decisions being made without our input. Is all gossip bad? What should I do?

Thanks for your help,

Concerned about Gossip

Dear Concerned,

Workplace communication is a tricky thing. While there are numerous guides on professional business etiquette and effective communication, employees often end up communicating in very unique ways. A few years ago Inc.com surveyed over 1,500 workers and found that 60 percent stated that their biggest workplace annoyance was employees that gossip. If so many people are bothered by gossip, why does it become a big part of inner-office communication in companies throughout the world? For one, organizations themselves can often develop a particular culture that either supports open communication or restricts information so people feel the need to talk in private about their concerns.

There are a few things to consider before deciding your next steps. First, I would ask you, is the actual amount of gossip increasing or is it that people are becoming more comfortable with you and therefore it feels like it is increasing? It may take a few months for co-workers to warm up to a new hire and therefore about the same amount of time for you to see the first signs of gossip. The fact that most of the whispers revolve around the boss and related management decisions; I would guess that most of your colleagues are probably feeling left out of major decisions. While there may be a reason behind this administrative strategy it is likely leaving your coworkers hurt and underappreciated. Often times, the very root of gossip comes from feeling hurt or threatened by another person or action.

Even if you know the cause of gossip in your office, it is equally as important to consider the intent of such secrets. Some workplace gossip can actually be beneficial to creating and maintaining bonds with your co-workers. For instance, a low-level of gossip about celebrities or media issues has been found to help reinforce shared values, increase feelings of connectedness and strengthen relationships in the office which can further promote teamwork and collaboration. However, there is a fine line between healthy workplace gossip and secretive, negative comments that discuss the actions of others or are intended to hurt another person. This type of gossip is often categorized as workplace violence and can have very serious effects on individual workers and the organization as a whole. Your actions here might be written out for you as it is likely that your company or human resource department has an official policy and disciplinary action related to malicious workplace gossip.

Finally, I’d like you to think about your role in the office. Do your coworkers come to you because your office is at the end of the hall and they see that as a “safe space” or do you help reinforce their feelings? Do you share further details on what you’ve heard from others around the office or simply listen? Are you still able to get your work done or has the gossip reached a level where you are less productive during the day? It is easy to become part of the gossip circle within an office because of the desire to be connected to and supportive of those around you. There is a very careful balance that you must play between supporting your coworkers to create stronger bonds with them and being loyal to the management of your company. If you are looking for career advancement within your organization it is likely that they are noticing your interactions with others and your role or involvement in inner-office gossip.

There are some smaller steps that you can take to move away from the gossip-filled environment around you. For instance, if you can dispel the myths promoted by others you can help reduce unnecessary gossip by providing accurate information. Additionally, consider bonding with your coworkers in another way. Perhaps you can provide the support and encouragement your coworkers need in order to feel comfortable enough to go to their supervisor with their concerns rather than speaking secretively.

KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M, is a professional career counselor who has worked in university and private settings. She holds degrees from Columbia and Cornell universities. Send your questions to newshrink@gmail.com. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!