(Photo source AP/Cheryl Senter)
I just read a news piece that cracked me up but also made me stop and think: N.H. Town Fires Four Workers for Gossiping.
Basically four Hooksett, New Hampshire town employees (Sandra Piper, Joann Drewniak, Jessica Skorupski and Michelle Bonsteel) were fired because they were gossiping about the town administrator and another town employee. They say the rumors were already rampant throughout the town and they were only discussing it among themselves at lunch. Everyone now admits there was no basis to the rumors, but these four women are left fighting to get their jobs back.
There’s a classic I Love Lucy episode appropriately called “Gossip” where Lucy and Ethel bet they can go longer than Ricky and Fred without gossiping. It’s a terrific take on what happens when gossip gets out of hand. Basically, we see that men and women alike can’t resist a juicy piece of a gossip if it’s dangled before us.
But what about it? Is gossip really so bad? After all…it’s only words. Then again, words spoken again and again as truth become a truth of its own. While the administrator was proved innocent of all shenanigans, he’ll always be associated with the rumors and questions will linger about what really happened. Seems awfully unfair to him, especially since he never had the fun to go with it.
And yet…we all know gossip can be a fun thing all on its own. Especially when your workday is mostly boring, things like juicy little bits of inside information can brighten your day. They’re also part of the social fabric of some workplaces. For instance, if your boss likes to gossip, do you say “No thank you. I don’t participate in things like that”? Not bloody likely.
But where do you draw the line? And just how much of what we say at work do we want to be monitored? Should you be fired for doing what human beings have done through the ages?
Look…I know gossip can hurt and I’m not a fan of passing on iffy info as absolute fact. These things can take on their own life with facts twisting and turning and shape-shifting just like in that old children’s game Telephone. And you also have to be extra aware of those nasty rumors started simply to be malicious and cause harm to people.
But that said…I don’t like the idea of people being fired for just discussing what was already a rampant rumor. It doesn’t seem fair – plus it leaves people feeling like they have to watch every word at the office, with definite potential for the punishment far exceeding the crime.
In addition, there are organizational benefits to allowing for the free flow of thought and exchange of ideas – including things that might be considered gossip. Sometimes passing on “gossip” brings to light important information that needs to be known. I’m not condoning malicious rumors – far from it. But if we make people worry they’ll be fired for simply talking, isn’t that just a type of censorship that in the end would hurt more than help? Are we going to bring back the pillory too?
In this case, the firings seem to have been used to appease the anger of an understandably outraged Administrator. But really…why fire these four women? They didn’t start the rumor and they weren’t the only ones gossiping. If only he could have fired the whole town!
Personally, I hope the whole thing blows over and the women get their jobs back soon. Assuming any penance was needed on the women’s part, they already received the most fitting punishment when they became the town’s latest bit of juicy gossip. But then, justly, the women turned the tables on the town and became the stars of this bizarre story – and are now known nationally as the Hooksett Four. And quite deservedly the town’s government now has egg on its face and the whole country is gossiping about what they did. Not a bad balance of outcomes.
But enough is enough. Let’s just hope they can all make nice and get back to work already.