Retail Career Obstacle: Gossiping

Retail Career (Killer) Obstacle: Gossiping

With the New Year quickly approaching I thought I would cover some topics that are opportunities in retail as professional resolutions for 2016. The first topics I have written about are Retail Career Obstacle: Defensiveness; Retail Career Obstacle: Unwilling To Self-Develop; Retail Career Obstacle: Excessively Ambitious and Arrogant; Retail Career Obstacle: Inabiity To Think Strategically; and Retail Career Obstacle: Cannot Build An Effective Team. Now I want to cover another growth hurdle I have seen during my career in retail: Gossiping.

Retail has lots of “yentas”…and in retail gossiping is an equal opportunity sport. According to Susan Ricker, “Nearly half of employers say they would think twice before moving an employee who participates in office gossip up the ranks”.

Gossip is a dangerous disease to a retail organization. Workplace gossip fuels workplace conflict, disruption, under-performance, and negatively impacts employee retention. Unaddressed, it can easily turn into workplace bullying.

No Gossiping

There has never been a retail organization I have worked with where gossip was not an issue. Seriously. As a matter of fact, it has always been, at least, in the Top 5 challenges a company was facing and one of the biggest, once stopped, to have an immediate positive impact on the company culture.

This is one of those employee behaviors that there needs to be a zero-tolerance policy around. According to WorkDoctor, “the estimated potential annual cost to an average Fortune 500 company in lost productivity (more than $8,000,000), turnover (more than $16,000,000), litigation (minimum legal expenses $104,000 per case with settlements ranging from $225,000 to $1.4 million), and disability (more than $114,000 with an estimated 18 percent of cases involving bullying) means bullies are too expensive to keep on the payroll”. Even scaled down to a smaller retailer – the cost associated with keeping these toxic and, frankly, offensiveemployees on the payroll is too high.

According to this New York Daily News article, Gossip Makes Up 80% Of Our Conversations. That means in a 30 minute conversation only six minutes of dialogue contains any substance. That’s insanity.

In an Huffington Post article by Janice Celeste, MBA , author, professor, and CEO of, she states, “If a company has 200 employees and each employee spent one hour a day trading gossip, that would result in $160,000 of lost productivity each month. That’s a loss of $1.92 million a year (based on $40 p/hr, salary & benefits).” Let’s face it, managers are, likely, the ones who are perpetuating or tolerating a culture of gossip in their area of responsibility – be it a store, district, region, or department.

Here are some common qualities you will find in your retail gossip:
-Typically gossips are insecure, unproductive, ineffective sheep that are challenged in delivering consistent measurable value to the business
-They also, frequently, thrive on schadenfreude
-They are cowards (when the issue is addressed they, frequently, start by denying their involvement or stating that someone misunderstood them)
-They spread negative gossip to increase their own professional status at the expense of their coworkers
-They enjoy detailing their coworkers mistakes because it makes they feel smarter or more skilled
-They excuse their performance consistently stating that the ability to deliver results was out of their control or it was hindered by someone else and their actions

What Can Senior Leadership Do To Stop The Gossip?

(1) Address the issue immediately!
-Hope is not a strategy in dealing with anything, especially a culture of gossip. You need to acknowledge it, put a zero-tolerance policy to it, and address the culprits
-If you cross your fingers and hope it goes away – be prepared for it to get bigger and uglier, because that is what absolutely will happen
(2) Reiterate your company values and vision
-There are very appropriate occasions that are perfect for coaching company encouraged behaviors and reminding team members that behaviors that are detrimental to the values of the company will not be tolerated
(3) Set the standard for the Company Values
-Values are great and they are the driving force in strong/solid retail organizations. But the actions of the company leaders will determine the accepted behaviors and reality of a company culture and environment
-Your team will act in accordance with your behavior – if you want and expect great, you need to deliver great consistently

In a previous post, titled, To Document or Not To Document – #Retail Performance I speak to the fact that when we don’t document performance issues and, in order to avoid confrontation, allow employees to think they are meeting the requirements of the workplace it is very detrimental to the business. Gossiping and rumor spreading is absolutely behavior that needs to be documented.

According to Allison West, Esq., SPHR Employment Practices here are the steps you need to Create Bulletproof Documentation:

1. Document Expectations
2. Document the Conduct (positive or negative)
3. Document the Employee’s Explanation
4. Document the Specific Action Plan/Goals*
5. Document the Timing
6. Document the Follow-Up
7. Document the Consequences

*I, typcially, have employees who have earned negative performance documentation sign off and date that specific company policy and include in the Action Plan/Goals a review of the “Employee Handbook” by the follow-up date

What Can Employees Do To Stop The Gossip?

(1) Don’t listen to it
-Separate yourself from the negative workplace influences
-It’s perfectly acceptable to verbally and respectfully communicate to any/all gossips that insinuate their “opinions” into your workplace conversations that you aren’t interested in gossip and to keep the conversation focused on fact and an appropriate workplace topic that improves efficiency, culture, and/or productivity of the business
-Remember, if they are gossiping to you, they are probably gossiping about you (that’s how they roll)
(2) Report it
-If you sense that an individual or a topic based around gossip is growing into workplace conflict ,or has the potential to, speak to your supervisor about it
-Ask for their support in clarifying the information or addressing the situation
(3) Don’t participate
-You know the old saying “Birds of a feather flock together”
-If you participate in the gossip either through contribution or entertaining a gossip by listening to it – you are part of the problem. Don’t be.
-A great study from Harvard Gazette, Beware Those Toxic Co-Workers

I always hope that retail team members will allow for an 100% respectful and inclusive workplace. Unfortunately, we are not there yet as an industry. I absolutely include speaking to the zero-tolerance policy of workplace gossip when I interview candidates. This sets the tone that we don’t want (and will not allow) this toxic behavior into our culture and supports a engaging and civil workplace and encourages more emotionally mature candidates to continue the interviewing process.

There will never be a workplace free of gossip or conflict but once the employees understand that these issues won’t be tolerated, it will help to minimize the negative influences and the team will support positive, open, transparent, and considerate communication. The team can focus more of their effort on work resolutions, overcoming challenges, team work, delivering results, and customer experience that support productivity and profitability.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

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