NZ Herald | The rule we are all breaking

If you’ve ever worked in an office before, you’ve probably been guilty of indulging in a little gossip at some point.

Whether it’s speculating about Sharon from account’s love life or the boss’ questionable fashion choices, most of us have swapped stories behind a co-worker’s back on occasion.

But according to workplace expert Rose Bryant-Smith, that common habit could end up seriously affecting your career.

Bryant-Smith, co-founder of workplace investigations firm Worklogic and co-author of Fix Your Team, said it was human nature to gossip and speculate at times of stress, such as when redundancies were on the table, or when boredom sets in.

But she said gossip becomes a problem when the speculation is negative in nature and when it is intended to “drag people down” and damage someone’s reputation.

“Bosses hate undermining gossip because it really damages team relationships,” she said.

“Bosses need people to work together constructively, and we know if someone speculates about your personal life — about your marriage, your illness, about how you got a promotion — that sort of gossip really hurts.

“You’re less likely to trust and work constructively with that person and the damage to teams can be significant.”

Bryant-Smith said many workers didn’t realise gossip could land them in hot water at work.

“People who engage in gossip need to be very careful they’re not breaching any values or standards of conduct the employer has set because at its worst, gossip can be bullying or sexual harassment,” she said.

Bryant-Smith said while you shouldn’t be forced to be friends with everyone you work with, conduct that affected morale, disrupted productivity or socially isolated a particular team member was “quite serious”.

So how should you handle the notorious office gossiper? Bryant-Smith said it was important to either refuse to engage with them — or call out their bad behaviour.

“Combat it directly and say, ‘I don’t find that sort of talk constructive, it makes me feel uncomfortable,’ or you could say ‘I really like Sarah, I don’t agree with what you’re saying,'” she said.

“In open-plan offices where noise levels are an issue and it’s harder to step away when someone is gossiping all day, say, ‘Look, I’ve got a deadline coming up, I’m popping my headphones on,’ and that’s a pretty good way of indicating you need to focus without being too confronting.

“And if you’re concerned about it getting out of hand and turning into bullying, I’d consider having a quiet word with your manager without making a formal complaint.”

Bryant-Smith said workers also needed to be wary of what they post on social media — especially if they are followed by any colleagues or clients, or have their role listed on their account.

“We often see employees get into hot water because they think comments they make on social media are either off the record or private, but the reality is Facebook posts and other social media comments are online 24/7 and if you’re connected with a colleague … people can literally take screenshots of your post and attach it to a formal complaint,” she said.

“Some employees don’t appreciate how much risk they’re taking. Unless none of your colleagues are your friend on Facebook, which is incredibly rare, it’s best to be careful because the lines between personal and professional on social media are blurry.”

This article was orginally published in the NZ Herald