Have You Heard? Office Gossip May Actually Be a Good Thing.

Five ways to support (healthy) gossip at your company, to encourage openness.

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By Heather R. Huhman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Office gossip -- we're all guilty of it. A new study of more than 1,000 U.S. employees by BambooHR revealed that participating in small talk or gossip with co-workers is one of the top ways employees spend their time at the office when they're not actively working.

Related: Five Steps for Giving Productive Feedback

And, considering that nearly half of employers (44 percent) studied (in a 2015 Careerbuilder survey of more than 2,000 U.S. hiring and HR managers) said they would think twice before moving an employee who gossips up the ranks, such office chitchat does more harm than good, right?

Not necessarily. Office gossip may largely be seen as a distraction which causes both productivity and morale to take a hit. But there's a fine line between harmless small talk and hurtful gossip among colleagues. In fact, the BambooHR study found that 18 percent of employees surveyed thought workplace gossip enhanced their overall performance.

The key, then, to keeping office gossip from creating a toxic work environment is to build teams that communicate in healthy ways. Here are five ways to do that, by encouraging small talk conducive to the workplace:

1. Lead by example.

A company's leadership often plays a substantial role in the creation (and elimination) of workplace gossip; thus, it's largely up to employers to get rid of the negative effects of everyday small talk. After all, employees look to the top of the corporate ladder to determine what's appropriate behavior and what's not.

The best way to keep employees from participating in gossip that hurts individual and overall morale and productivity is to lead by example. Employers need to model the behavior they want to see in their employees. If they don't want Susie whispering hurtful words about Scott during breakroom chats, employers need to refrain from doing it themselves.

2. Embrace transparency.

The more transparent a company is, the less of a need there is to speculate and participate in office gossip. If employee salaries are made public within the company, for instance, there's no need for employees to assume the reasons why one person might make more or less than another. Because the details are out in the open, there's little room for sneaking suspicions.

Whether your conversation centers around company financials and well-being, or promotions and raises, keep employees in the loop as much as possible. Open communication and transparency at work helps keep harmful gossip at bay.

Related: 4 Ways to Get Truly Honest Feedback From Employees

3. Bring teams together.

Not all conversations at work take place around a conference table -- nor should they. Harmless gossip between colleagues can build stronger workplace relationships and boost overall morale.

And, considering that 89 percent of the 716 employees surveyed in Globoforce's Fall 2014 Workforce Mood Tracker said that work relationships mattered to quality of life, employers should support this kind of small talk in the office.

To keep non-work-related chats between colleagues from distracting employees from their work, bring teams together through office events, outings and activities. Use a tool like Eventyoda that's designed to help employers discover and book team-building activities in their area.

4. Support peer-to-peer feedback.

Peer-to-peer feedback is a great way to get employees talking about the very things they tend to gossip with colleagues about -- one other's performance at work. Instead, it provides a means for them to discuss people's work performance in a safe, healthy environment.

Most important, feedback encourages employees to focus on building one other up, rather than bringing their colleagues down through behind-the-back chit-chat. Not only does peer-to-peer feedback help eliminate harmful small talk in the office, it also provides both employers and employees with valuable insight they might not otherwise get.

5. Encourage accountability.

To avoid playing the blame game, which often results in hurtful rumors or gossip, encourage employees to take accountability. Reward employees who take accountability for their actions -- good or bad -- through public recognition and praise. Doing so will motivate their peers to follow suit.

When you create a culture of accountability, employees have less reason to use language that indicates blame or resentment, and results in a toxic workplace. Accountability, paired with peer-to-peer feedback, rallies employees and builds overall morale.

What are some other ways to support healthy small talk in the workplace? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Related: 'What Did You Say?' Is Your Employee Feedback Getting Through?

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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