Avoiding workplace gossip is a key skill everyone need to learn. Many teachers can get caught in the negative mindset trap that our colleagues can project onto us. We have the potential to absorb others’ negative comments in the staffroom, teacher workroom, hallways – the possibilities are endless.
It is important to remember that everyone has their own relationships with students, other colleagues, administrators, and parents. We cannot get brought into these relationships which could risk our own carefully crafted relationships and workplace reputations.
This can definitely be a hard lesson for new and experienced teachers to learn.
What is considered workplace gossip?
Workplace gossip has many forms:
- It is any talk that diminishes another person within your workplace.
- It is sharing confidential information, slandering another person, making fun of another person behind their back, etc.
- It is talking about things that aren’t work-related, possibly are private, and talked about in a way to demean or ridicule another person.
- It is spreading rumours.
- It is undermining the work of others.
Ultimately, it is a form of bullying and harassment. Check out this article -“Bullying in the Workplace” from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
Why is gossip toxic, and why is it harmful to your mental health?
In order to maintain a healthy working environment, it is important to reduce the number of stressors within the workplace. Gossip can lead to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and depression and might sometimes lead people to quit their profession.
My strategies for avoiding workplace gossip:
- I try to avoid workplace gossip by limiting my time spent in places at school I know are likely to be areas for gossip (e.g. staffroom). I use my lunches to mark and/or plan lessons to reduce the amount of work I take home each night.
- I also try to avoid people who have a frequently negative outlook or gossip. Avoiding situations is not always possible, but you can stop the spread by not passing along newly obtained “information.” Most likely, it is not the entire story.
More avoidance strategies can include:
- Politely removing yourself from a situation if gossip is taking place.
- Having a rule that there will be no gossip within your classroom, letting your students and coworkers be aware that it will not be tolerated.
- Not sharing personal information at work, as well as not sharing your colleagues’ personal information.
- Keeping focused on school-related topics and keeping conversations professional and polite.
- If a coworker tries to “vent” to you about another coworker, encourage them to see human resources or the union with their concerns.
- If you do hear gossip within your workplace unintentionally, avoid spreading it.
Here are some other ways for avoiding workplace gossip and how to talk about mental health in the workplace:
- How to recognize a toxic workplace and what to do about it: Jennifer Moss
- “Rumour Has It”: The Pros And Cons Of Workplace Gossip
- Bell Let’s Talk Day: How to talk about mental health in the workplace
You can also do things that spread positivity within your workplace:
- Start your own “lunch club” and invite some teachers who do not gossip to your classroom to each lunch together. Make it known that the club is a positive environment and that gossip will not be tolerated.
- Start a soup club. Schools I have worked in have this lunch club once a week. 2 – 3 teachers a week sign up and provide soup, salad, and bread for the members to eat. This sets a positive tone for lunch that day, and a lot of the talk pertains to the food!
- Have a positivity jar where you keep notes of the happy and positive things that happen in your workspace, as well as how other teachers inspire you. Encourage other teachers to participate. When someone needs a pick-me-up, they can pick a paper out of the jar to read.
- Encourage your peers to practice positive mental health strategies rather than participate in workplace gossip.
- If you see a coworker who is struggling within the workplace, help them set up a teacher support system. It is very important to have peers within your workplace who can provide you with emotional support. This is also very important because having a support system in place means someone is there if you feel you are starting to experience teacher burnout.
Several experienced teachers have shared their strategies below for avoiding workplace gossip and negative talk.
- First, avoid the people that bring you down. If you can’t, try this. I once read that if you don’t agree or ask for more information while people are gossiping/being negative, they will quickly stop because they won’t feel like they are getting the reciprocation they are looking for. Meghan from Fun Fresh Ideas
- Avoid places like the workroom during busy times to eliminate being caught with stressed, frustrated, or gossipy teachers. Michele from A Lesson Plan For Teachers
- Sometimes people seem difficult because there is a lack of communication. When you are able to sit down with that person and talk, it’s amazing how much you find in common. I recently did this with one of my colleagues and found that they had the same passion as I do for students with Autism. Prior to that experience, I thought she didn’t care. Laura from Research Based Teaching Tools
- Kill them with kindness. I find that people who are generally grumpy or gossipy because they have low self-esteem or are dealing with personal issues. When I take a moment to step back and imagine what it might be like to walk a mile in that person’s shoes, it helps me to love them and focus on encouraging them. Building a relationship with someone (even someone I might not expect to befriend) makes me feel 100% better than bad-mouthing them. Melissa from The Reading and Writing Haven
- I usually try to say something positive that I’ve noticed about the person in question and try to redirect the conversation. If that doesn’t work, I suddenly remember an errand I need to take care of and leave the conversation. Jenny from Bulletin Board Bonanza
- Check out more new teacher tips here.
Avoiding workplace gossip can be a challenge, but it is not impossible. Ensuring you have a support system set up within your school and having mechanisms in place for when you do encounter gossip in the workplace are excellent first steps towards positivity and good mental health when it comes to teaching.
Are you looking for more resources on mental health?
- Teacher Self-Care Challenge
- Strategies To Avoid Teacher Burnout
- Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout
- Teacher Self-Care Tips
- Teacher Mental Health Strategies
- How To Make Use of Teacher Support Systems
- Setting Boundaries By Saying No
- Prevent Teacher Burnout: 3 Support Systems You Need to Recognize
If you are reading this blog post and are in urgent need of emergency mental health care, please call your local emergency number (911 in North America) or reach out to the resources listed on this Get Help Now page from Better Help.