The Consequences of Spreading Gossip at Work

Topic(s): ethics
Publication: Journal of Business Ethics
Article: Don’t shoot the messenger? A morality- and gender-based model to reaction to negative workplace gossip
Authors: M. Kakarika, S. Taghavi, H.V. González-Gómez
Reviewed by: Grace Cox

In the workplace, talk between coworkers can quickly turn into gossip – whether about other coworkers, the organization, or the work itself. While much research has focused on the effects of workplace gossip on the target of the gossip, researchers in this study (Kakarika et al., 2024) investigated what happens to the gossip spreader.


In the first experiment, 179 participants read different gossip-related scenarios and rated how moral they thought the gossip-spreader was. Similar procedures were used in the second study, but the researchers also changed the gender of the gossip spreader in the stories. The 530 participants also rated their perceptions of the morality of the gossip spreader, as well as what consequences the gossip spreader should face. Finally, in the last study, the researchers used data from 186 participants who had actually been part of a gossip incident and had them rate the severity of the gossip they received, the perceived morality of the gossip spreader, and the consequences they believe the gossip spreader should have faced or did face.

Overall, the researchers found that listeners were more likely to rate gossipers as having low morality. This eventually led to career sanctions, including being less likely to be recommended for a bonus or promotion, lower performance ratings, and social exclusion. These relationships were strengthened when the listener was female. Interestingly, the work-relatedness of the gossip and the gender of the gossip spreader had no significant effects on the outcomes of the study.


While it is unlikely that gossip in the workplace will ever stop, there are several things leaders and organizations can do to mitigate its potential negative effects:

  • Raise employee awareness regarding workplace gossip and its consequences. By highlighting the possible negative consequences, gossip may be reduced in organizations.
  • Provide space for both men and women to talk about their gossip experiences and work through their responses. Also, give people strategies to reduce sensitivity to negative gossip and help them regulate their emotions upon listening to gossip. By doing these things, the negative consequences found in this study may be mitigated.


Kakarika, M., Taghavi, S., & González-Gómez, H. V. (2024). Don’t shoot the messenger? A morality- and gender-based model to reactions to negative workplace gossip. Journal of Business Ethics, 189, 329-344.

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