Gossip can be an insidious form of intimidation or harassment. If the intention is to degrade, spread lies or half-truths about people, or if they are designed to hurt, denigrate and destroy reputations behind people's backs, then gossip has crossed the line and has become workplace harassment. There's a big difference, and it's important to make the distinction, because crazy gossip can be dangerous and destructive in the workplace. A good first step in dealing with workplace harassment is to open up to someone you trust, such as a friend or family member.
Gossip among employees can have positive effects, such as creating a strong sense of social connection. So how can you tell the difference between idle talk and workplace gossip? While idle talk and other light talk may be value-neutral, gossip is often negative, inflammatory, and embarrassing for the person being talked about. About a year later, I attended another conference and someone who had listened to that speech told me that implementing a no-gossip policy had been the best thing they had ever done to improve the morale, productivity and profitability of their agency. Malicious gossip is a form of harassment that can damage morale, increase anxiety, reduce productivity and ruin reputation, according to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM).
However, the employee being gossiped about suffers a loss of reputation and may feel left out of the group. Purposely misleading a co-worker or employee about their work obligations for reasons of humor or to compromise their work performance is often considered harassment in the workplace. Gossip often includes discussing trivial matters, such as a co-worker's new hairstyle, weight loss, weight gain, or a recent trip to Las Vegas. The gossiper hopes to build his own power and influence in the office by using scapegoats and tearing down his co-workers or managers.
However, some types of gossip are psychologically destructive and can also expose you or the company to liability. Gossip thrives in a permissive environment and will become much less of a problem if you make it clear that you won't accept it.