Why Gossiping in the Workplace Can Impact Your Mental Health, and How to Deal With Negativity
It's a no-brainer that negativity leads to negativity. But is gossiping at work actually impactful on our mental health, or is it harmless?
In a study conducted by OfficePulse, ‘72% of business professionals admitted to gossiping about workplace issues or co-workers while at the office’ . However, this percentage doesn't necessarily correlate with adverse workplace health. The study also revealed that 29% of people believe that gossiping can build workplace relationships . Whilst this may be true, they aren't considering the impact that gossiping can have on those who are the subject of gossiping. And, to an extent, the effect it can have on those who gossip.
Gossip is indirect, and the subject, or target, is often talked about behind their back in a negative manner. What many people fail to realise, or perhaps struggle to accept, is that gossiping is a form of bullying. And subsequently can be a fundamental factor in the demise of one's mental health.
Studies indicate that 30% of the working population has experienced bullying at work , and Bart Verkuil et al. state that 33% of people associate their mental health problems with their work situation . They go on to disclose that work issues are the most common self-reported cause of depression .
Noriko Tan et al. also conducted a study analysing the impact of gossiping. They note that the prevalence of work-related gossip does indeed run parallel with the decrease in a person's psychological well-being, stating that it can lead to an ‘inability to build strong emotional connections, or trusting relationships, with their co-workers’ . As well as this, they explore the impact gossip has on one's ability to succeed within a business or work environment. According to Tan et al., subjects of gossiping are more likely to have reduced productivity at work . The fear of being assessed or judged on every move they make is enough to make anyone's workplace health and well-being suffer. Hand-in-hand with that anticipation is the inability to form meaningful workplace relationships due to a distinct lack of trust. And, as a result, a lack of support from co-workers, which ultimately lowers one's mental well-being.
We have all gossiped at some point; be it at school, within a business, or even amongst our friends. One could view 'positive gossip'  to be harmless, after-all, discussing a co-worker's success or potential for promotion in a positive light is unlikely to impact the subject's mental health negatively, right? However, gossip, of course, refers to discussing a person behind their back. So, regardless of the positive discussion you may be having, the subject of your gossip does not know what it is you are saying. They could be thinking the absolute worst if they suspect you are gossiping about them, which could spark a reduced state of workplace health and well-being.
Ultimately, businesses should be responsible and pro-active when tackling workplace gossiping and bullying. But with something verbal, there often isn't hardcore evidence to back up allegations. E. Danziger heavily suggests that the onus lies with those in the driving seat of power, ‘managers must work to minimise gossip in the office, where it can easily become a dangerous force for poor work habits and ill will’ . Both of which will undoubtedly lead to a demise in one's mental and workplace health.
Unfortunately, gossip in the workplace and, as a result, detrimental workplace health is omnipresent and inevitable in any business. But how can we deal with negativity productively and effectively?
In 'The No Complaining Rule', Jon Gordon states that ‘the best way to deal with negativity is to create a positive culture where negativity can't breed, grow, and survive. Otherwise, you will spend all your time fighting negativity rather than cultivating a positive culture’ . Although gossip is not necessarily provable, the sheer inevitability of it should be enough to motivate managers and directors to put a stop to it. And besides, there is no harm whatsoever in cultivating a positive work environment. Below are a few steps you can take when combatting negativity in the workplace.
Reflect on yourself and the discussions you have had with your co-workers . Ensure that you are not the cause of someone else's negativity.
If you hear negative comments or gossiping, speak up. It's uncomfortable at first to be the anomaly in a situation, but you will feel that it is the right thing to do, for your workplace health and the well-being of others. And, who knows, maybe your confidence in saying why it is wrong will inspire them to reflect on themselves.
Fredrickson argues that we need three positive emotions to cancel out one negative. Most of us know what makes us smile, be it a picture of your family or a walk during your lunch break. Whatever it is, if it's possible during business hours, do it. It's vital to your mental health to override negative emotions with positive ones.
Notice yourself feeling angry about a situation you have been a part of or witnessed? Take a minute. Breathe. Remember that whilst negative emotions are hard to shift, they are temporary feelings. Accept that the negative emotion is there, and you will be able to act on it with intention.
Be a Positive Beacon
The easiest way to ensure there is positivity around you is to be that positivity for someone else. We all know that there is no selfless good deed because helping someone else makes us feel good inside. Compliment your co-workers, brighten their day somehow, and that positivity will undoubtedly shine on you too.
As stated earlier, management should create a positive business environment, and if that does not extend to you or your experiences, then they should be aware of it. It may feel like you're 'telling' on your co-workers, but it will most likely have a more positive outcome than a negative one. And sharing the weight of your negative emotions will lighten the load on you.
‘Gossips are worse than thieves because they steal another person's dignity, honest reputation and credibility… which are challenging to restore.’ 
 Vitukevich N. Office Gossip Runs Rampant [Internet]. Office Pulse. Office Pulse; 2019 [cited 2020 Aug 19].
 Verkuil B, Atasayi S, Molendijk ML. Workplace Bullying and Mental Health: A Meta-Analysis on Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Data. Courvoisier DS, editor. PLOS ONE. 2015 Aug 25;10(8):e0135225.
 Danziger, E. (1988). Minimize office gossip. The Personnel Journal, 67, 31–35.
 Gordon J. The no complaining rule: positive ways to deal with negativity at work. Hoboken, N.J.: J. Wiley & Sons; 2008.
 Hazelton S. Deal with negativity in the workplace. Strategic HR Review. 2014 Jun 3;13(4/5).
 Salmansohn, K. (2016). Think happy: Instant peptalks to boost positivity. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.