A Guide to the Grapevine: HR Secrets to Managing Office Gossip

It’s no surprise that news and gossip heard through the grapevine have long been the bane of Human Resource’s existence. According to a Workplace Index Survey, approximately 60% of employees report that people in their office engage in gossip. When employees chatter, not only are people’s personal secrets revealed, but also the state of the company’s culture is shown in a negative light. The grapevine signifies the health of a company. Often when employees have a light workload they distract themselves with gossip. Also, the grapevine is an indicator of the quality of management’s communication. If communication is poor then the grapevine becomes more active. Thus, in order to gain insight into an employee’s perspective and the workplace environment, HR must stay in touch with the grapevine.

Not too long ago, the workplace grapevine consisted of water cooler banter, lunch gossip, and other informal methods of communication. Today, the primary method of communication has shifted towards technology.  Thanks to the prominence of social media, news heard through the grapevine now spreads more quickly. Increasingly, we see people using their social networks to talk about work, and many companies have fallen victim to social media blunders from its employees. This in turn makes the grapevine more important than ever before, illuminating a company’s inner workings not only to HR, but also to the entire world.  

The Bad News

  • The grapevine can’t be eradicated. Where there are people, there will be gossip. It is human nature to talk, and to try and eliminate chatter or banter in the workplace is an impractical endeavor. With the Internet at play, it becomes even more futile to put an end to gossip.
  • Rumors escalate quickly. Social media enables information to go viral, and the same can happen in a workspace. Top gossip that easily gets out of hand includes: management decisions, job stability, and company outlook. These types of serious rumors have influence on turnover rates.
  • The grapevine affects employee productivity.  Gossip is often thought of as an idle activity, and it can be. The hotter the gossip is, the more likely employees will be preoccupied gossiping rather than working. In addition, employee morale can be heavily impacted by news through the grapevine, regardless of whether it is true or not.

The Good News

  • You can take advantage of office gossip. Despite its bad reputation, gossip has a silver lining. Studies show that gossip is a powerful tool to keeping people in line – after all, no one wants to be talked about in a negative light. HR can control what’s heard through the grapevine to take discourage or encourage certain behaviors.
  • The grapevine helps people bond. The grapevine allows employees to express their dilemmas to each other and bond through shared conversations. Moreover, the grapevine helps employees relate to management’s struggles, and it can probe them to rise to the occasion while seeking greater opportunities.
  • The grapevine news sets expectations for the workplace. What’s heard through the grapevine prepares employees on two levels: it makes them aware of possible trouble on the horizon and uncovers the informal corporate structure and implied rules of conduct in the company.

Make the Grapevine Work for You

Now, keep in mind that not all things heard through the grapevine are true – you must take what you hear with a grain of salt. There are ways to minimize the gossip that is shared and optimize the good.

Step 1: Get in the know

If you have healthy working relationships with hiring managers, you can become an insider. Rather than limiting yourself to only working with people who are higher up, stay on good terms with employees in general. Be observant (especially during lunch) of workplace chatter; the people who are in the know can be distinguished this way. Don’t just eavesdrop – try to mingle and get on good terms with these people in order to stay up to date on the latest gossip. If your office has a culture where many employees befriend each other on social media channels, don’t hesitate to also explore this option.

Step 2: Leverage what enters into the grapevine

About one-third of employees say that they first hear important news from private conversations, or one on ones with their managers. Information that trickles down from management carries authority with it. This is a chance for HR to spread good news through a powerful tool, word of mouth. Talk to hiring managers and upper management about what they say to their teams. Emphasize sharing triumphs and team or employee accomplishments. If you use the grapevine properly, you can create a positive buzz around the office and about your company.


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