5 massive causes of office gossip and how to prevent it from happening

The Hubble Team
The Hubble Team|


Office gossip is natural but can end in disaster

When you spend eight hours a day, 5 days a week with the same people in the same room it doesn’t take much for the talking to start. Whether it’s a knowing glance or rumours in the kitchen, here are the top five causes of office gossip and some ideas about how to deal with it if you’re on the receiving end.

Two employees gossiping in office cubicle

Secret Meetings

Someone gets called into the manager’s office for a ‘meeting’ and then the questions start to fly.

“Why are they called in and not you?”

“Are they getting fired or are they getting promoted?”

“How come they get promoted?”

“Why can’t they just tell you all at the same time?”

These are all questions that are likely running around the heads of those other staff, and it’s perfectly natural. People are naturally inquisitive and want to know what is going. The problems really start when those questions are then answered by unfounded rumours and fable is created. You need to be able to quickly asses whether they are toxic or not, and be sure to take the right action. The last thing you need is an unfounded rumour ruining your reputation in the office.

Personally I believe in open honest transparency and therefore I would confront any ungrounded rumours with a firm but funny challenge. An example might be something like this:

“Hi there guys, I know there are some rumours about me having had a meeting with [INSERT MANAGER’S NAME HERE] the other day and that I am getting promoted. I am not really able to say what was talked about at this point in time, but lets hope I keep my job long enough to let you know what it was all about”.

Ending with a big toothy grin is a little secret I have learned over many years in business. In the infamous words of Stanley Gordon West

“Smile and the world smiles with you”.

Just be sure not to smile like this chap, otherwise, you might end up starting lots of other rumours!

creepy smiling man

You will of course get questions about what really happened and this is where you judgement comes in. If you able to say what it was about then of course this is your best course of action. If however it’s a little sensitive, or your manager has asked that you not say anything then you should let everyone know that you promise to let them know when you can. You can always push the responsibility up the chain and say something like:

“I would love to be able to tell you, but Joe Bloggs has asked that I don’t say anything at the moment. It’s a little sensitive right now so I am sure you can understand. But I promise to let you know when I can.”

Treating your co-workers as you would want to be treated is the right course of action. Do NOT lie otherwise when the truth does come out you will lose credibility with your peers.

Wearing The Same Clothes to the office As The Day Before

Yes, this does happen. People do notice what you are wearing and if you’re wearing the same clothes as you did yesterday all kinds of fantasies can be created. There is very likely a simple explanation to all of this, but once again people like to get creative. Here are a few examples of what might be said:

“Have sales got so bad they can no longer afford washing powder?”

“Are the rumours true and they are getting it on with that person in accounts and didn’t go home last night?”

“Perhaps they had too many at the work drinks yesterday and slept in the office?”

Again I always like a little humour to diffuse the situation if you can see/feel people have noticed. Perhaps just a simple comment such as:

“My Hawaiian shirt was not back from the dry cleaners so I had to wear this again..!”

might be enough to diffuse the situation.

So be mindful, people are observant, and if you are trying to keep something from your colleagues a spare set of clothes would not go amiss. You have been warned.

Personal Phone Calls in the office

Whether it is arguing in hushed tones with your bank or loudly boasting about last night’s activities whilst looking around for some sort of recognition, taking personal phone calls at your desk is a never ending source of gossip. If everyone nearby goes quiet, then yes they are listening to pick up on the details to discuss later.

the office phone call from a mobile phone

It’s always worth taking personal calls out of earshot, even if they are innocent. Imagine this conversation between husband and wife (in bold on the other end of the phone). Although innocent it can easily be misconstrued.

H – “Hey there sorry I missed you this morning

W – “Don’t worry I know you had to rush out”

H – “Yea I needed to get out quickly. I think I even left my jacket!”

W – “Yes silly you did, I can see it. It’s on the sofa. Is Timmy’s present in the pocket as he is actually sitting on it!”

H – “Oh no, I hope he does not notice it. That would give the game away”

Can you see how this can easily get out of hand? Exactly. Make sure you take those calls outside, then you don’t leave yourself open to any gossip.

Office Fridge and Kitchen Etiquette

One up from the issue of whoever leaves the washing up, is the case of the missing food. Last week it was Tom’s quinoa salad, this week Lucy’s chorizo pot has gone and you’re considering locking your lunch in your desk drawers. If there is one thing to get the office whispering it is the mystery food thief. No one has seen anyone eating their lunch, no one can find the disregarded wrapper but it’s gone and now everyone in the office is a suspect just like a modern day witch hunt.

Things like this can happen easily as people accidentally pick up one another’s pasta salad, or low fat coleslaw but you know when things are reaching a limit is when post-it notes are being stuck to everything. This is when the team needs to have a ‘family chat’. Openly discuss the issue, and you might find that there are common things you all share that are going missing. You can then set up a kitty and not only make more space in the fridge but also everyone is happy as nothing is getting stolen.

The taking of food is bad enough, but those slightly sarcastic notes that are written in a manner so as not to offend (professional courtesty etc) are not much better.

office note in fridge get off my food

get off my food note in office fridge

Office Christmas Parties can be trouble!

This is something that everyone has to deal with at work, and some people can get this very wrong indeed. Awkward liaisons, terrible dancing, drunken slurs and telling your colleagues what you really think of them- be it good or bad, you know for certain that the day after Christmas party the office is going to be full of whispers.

‘Did you see him doing his 80s style dancing? Or the karaoke come to that?’

Just be mindful that you are still at work, and that your party friends are also your colleagues, managers and bosses. The last thing you want is to tarnish your reputation so perhaps choose to drink a glass of water so you are not the ‘most’ drunk at the party.

man dancing in office party

However you are never going to be able to stop gossip, and in a lot of instances its fun and harmless. I think the most important thing to focus on is how you deal with it, after all your reputation proceeds you and you have to be mindful to manage it.

Have you heard of any other major causes of office gossip? If so please drop us a line, we would love to hear.

In summary, here’s how to prevent office gossip:

  1. Don’t take part. Office gossip can be very damaging so make sure you don’t spread the rumours or gossip on.
  2. Vocalise your concerns. When hearing gossip, question what you hear and make everyone think about the fact that the rumour probably isn’t true.
  3. Don’t speculate. Is your colleague having a long un-planned meeting with your manager? Rather than spreading untruthful gossip, ask your colleague what the meeting was about.
  4. If you’re the person being gossiped about, express your discontent highlight the immature behaviour. If you don’t want to do this, talk to your boss. Don’t suffer in silence.
  5. Show others respect. Gossip often arises from breaking office etiquette. Show others respect by cleaning up after yourself, don’t talk over others and be respectful.


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