One of America's favourite CEOs explains why he encourages gossip in the office

Jim Whitehurst Office Red Hat CEO Missy McLambRed Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst (center) with employees.

Conventional wisdom tells us that engaging in office gossip is unprofessional — even harmful to your career.

But Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst has a different opinion of the workplace rumour mill.

“Rule of thumb when it comes to office gossip: If you have more truth telling at the water cooler than in meetings, you’ve got a problem,” Whitehurst, who was recently ranked No. 10 on Glassdoor’s list of America’s most beloved CEOs, tells Business Insider. “You want to get to a place where people feel safe to share their thoughts, feelings, and opinions about a situation, beyond the water cooler.”

Rather than condemn office gossip, Whitehurst believes it’s a symptom of ineffective workplace communication. The CEO of the open-source software company says it’s crucial for leaders to create an open environment and encourage individuals to share both negative and positive thoughts, as the static, anonymous suggestion box simply doesn’t cut it anymore.

“The benefits of open, constructive dialogue are innumerable,” says Whitehurst. “As a leader, you can get a more accurate pulse on your organisation. What are people excited about? Where are their questions? All of those things matter. And, amazing ideas can come from anywhere in an organisation. If you give people a platform to have these conversations, ask questions, and find solutions, amazing things can happen.”

For many workers, office gossip provides an opportunity to simultaneously share information and vent about issues. Whitehurst is fine with his employees verbalizing such problems, saying that as long as the talk is productive and truthful, it’s valuable for the entire company.

“When you have passionate associates, like Red Hatters tend to be, some conversations can get heated,” Whitehurst says. “But I’d say the majority are incredibly productive and ultimately help us come up with solutions that a small cohort of teams on their own might never have been able to.”

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