The Water Cooler Knows All

What’s the best way to handle secrets and gossip in the workplace?

By Jenn Harrison

Jan 27 2016 at 2 a.m.


A fellow employee walks out of their office with a paper box full of personal effects, either heading to another office, or even worse, their car.

Officially, nothing has been communicated throughout the company. Unofficially… well, did you hear about… Let the assumptions and story-telling begin.  

Secrets in the workplace can wreak havoc on the company and employees, sometimes giving the person or the company a bad image and always hurting the company culture. Unfortunately, those who are in the know are unable, unwilling or just may not know what they can share based on legal reasons, so they remain silent. So, what’s the best way to handle secrets and gossip in the workplace?


Educate yourself

It is often difficult to know what you can and cannot say in regards to issues with employees. When facing these situations, work with your HR department, legal representatives and other resources to know what can and cannot be shared about the situation, and be quick about it. Gossip will travel faster than you expect.


Communicate what you can as early as you can.

While you may want to hold off until you have the full story or understand what you can and cannot share, some may already be speculating about what happened. Providing some information early will help alleviate some discussions held around the watercooler if they are given enough information at the beginning or know there is more information to come. This also sets you in control of the information being distributed.  

It is important to already have a communication system established, especially if there are multiple levels within your organization. These are vital to managing these situations and creating an open environment.


Be as transparent as possible.

Be open and honest with what you are able to share and cut off assumptions and rumors when you start to hear about them. When you have built a strong communication system between management and employees, employees will come to management to ask if certain rumors are true instead of spreading them further. You have the opportunity to correct the stories. Open and honest communication in situations like this aids in building a strong culture. It’s important for the discussions to be as factual as possible, and take care in not degrading employees, especially if the employee is still a member of the company.


Set the example.

If someone comes to you and wants to discuss the issue, only discuss what is able to be shared and refrain from discussing what sounds like rumors, especially when not coming from the direct source, even if it requires you to stop the person from talking about it. As the rumors start that are not truthful or not necessary to be discussed, address them early to establish a no-tolerance policy for gossip.


Jenn Harrison is an Engagement Coordinator with People Centric Consulting Group.  Jenn has a Master of Arts from Drury University where she studied Communication, Public Relations and Advertising.