How to Manage Workplace Gossip

It’s a fact of life: We like to talk about each other. Most of us are curious to know the “who, what, where, when, why and how” of a situation, and creative professionals are no exception. In fact, nearly two-thirds of advertising and marketing executives surveyed by The Creative Group said it’s common for employees to engage in workplace gossip. The good news is that most respondents said gossip at work took an inoffensive or lighthearted tone.

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But do beware: “Bad office gossip” still runs rampant in most workplaces, and knowing how to handle it is an important skill. Following are some examples of when to keep quiet and when to talk, as well as tips for preventing workplace gossip from going too far.

You’re fired! It may not have been Donald Trump who delivered the news, but you trust your co-worker when she says the creative director has lost his job. It’s common knowledge that this person has been underperforming for quite a while, but there has been no formal announcement about his departure. While every workplace has an underground network through which information of this sort travels, it’s best to wait to share the news. If this person hasn’t been fired, it would be damaging to his reputation—and yours—to tell others that he’s no longer with the firm. Even if you’re right about his departure, there may be a legal reason your company hasn’t yet announced the news. If you were collaborating with this person on a project, consult with your supervisor about the proper course of action.

Dating dramas. Your teammate pulled you into his cubicle first thing in the morning to tell you that Kate, the copywriter, was seen having dinner with Len in legal. What should you do with this information? Nothing. While news of this sort is particularly juicy, avoid the temptation to repeat it. Your co-worker’s reading of the “date” may be completely wrong. Even if he’s right, it’s none of your business what employees do in their spare time. Unless one of the individuals manages the other—or you think their personal interactions affect your job in some way—keep the information to yourself and encourage your colleague to do the same. Your efforts will help to turn a potentially negative story into a non-story.

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The “promotion” game. The office is abuzz about a recently vacated senior designer position. You and three of your colleagues want the job, and the official word from management is that it will be awarded to an internal employee. This has been the only official word, however; the remaining news has been conjecture among colleagues. Your best move is to steer clear of the guessing games and focus on your work. If you truly want the job, feeding the grapevine with who might be awarded the position won’t help your case. Companies tend to promote individuals who are not only talented, but also able to diplomatically negotiate office politics. This is your chance to demonstrate the latter skill. When co-workers ask you about the open position, be straightforward and honest with your answer: “I have no idea who will get the job, but I assume whomever it is will be well-qualified.”

News from the top. Imagine this scenario: Without explaining why, your supervisor asks everyone on her already overwhelmed team to take on extra projects. But your manager confided in you, explaining that her boss gave out the extra assignments and they are top priority. While your manager took over most of the tasks, she had to assign each member of the team one, too. Sharing this information with your colleagues would probably be doing everyone a favor, as long as your manager didn’t ask you to keep it to yourself, of course. Staff will be more understanding, and she won’t have to contend with resentful employees.

Keep in mind that workplace information must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. In general, there isn’t one rule regarding gossip except for this: Never spread negative or malicious news. It will hurt both the person you’re speaking of and you. Instead, hone your diplomacy skills by using gossip to help rather than hurt the reputations of those with whom you work. You’ll build a positive reputation for yourself in the process.