The rumor mill. The grapevine. The drum. Call it what you will, but it’s as much an aspect of working life as job descriptions or performance evaluations. And when workplace gossip is permitted to spiral out of control, it can be one of the nastiest. The subject doesn’t come up much in editorial about the printing industry, perhaps because the small size of most printing companies doesn’t give gossip anywhere to go once it gets started. It surfaced a few weeks ago, though, in a story in The New York Times about the unusual steps that one printing company has taken to create a gossip-neutralizing work environment in which each employee is expected to mold his or her communication with other employees according to known personality traits. The piece is a first-person, as-told-to commentary by Shayla McKnight, a technical service assistant at She describes a color-coded system in which new hires are tested to assess their “dominant communication style” so that this information can be shared their co-workers. McKnight says: “If someone is a ‘red,’ for example, he or she appreciates when others are direct and state the facts quickly. A person who’s a ‘blue’ enjoys having all the details, and time to process them. A ‘yellow’ is spontaneous and likes a personal connection.” McKnight is a “green”: sensitive, courteous, compassionate, and supportive. Color bars on desk nameplates announce what part of the spectrum each person occupies. Signing an “agreement to values” form commits employees to supporting the company’s zero-tolerance policy about gossip, office politics, and back-stabbing. Those who violate the policy can be let go. “It has happened,” McKnight says. She believes in what PrintingForLess has done to brand workplace gossip as an unacceptable behavior. “It makes one heck of a difference in the work environment,” she says. “There's a greater sense of being part of a team here than in other jobs I’ve had.” Because everyone has bought into the mindset, she adds, “We count on everyone being aboveboard, and we encourage people to confront one another.” Can policies and practices like these completely squelch gossip in a printing company or in any other type of business? Probably not, even at a company as proactively anti-gossip as McKnight paints PrintingForLess to be. The impulse to share what we imagine to be “inside” information is too deeply ingrained in most of us, and, after all, not all workplace “gossip” is malicious or counterproductive. Should a company adopt a system that uses color codes and codes of conduct to regulate behaviors that can give rise to gossip? The program that McKnight describes appears to be working well at PrintingForLess. But maybe it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Privacy-respecting individuals can shut the rumor mill down—or at least make it grind nearly to a halt—simply by refusing to take part in it. “I’ve also found that if people know that you don’t gossip and that you don't tolerate it, they won’t gossip around you,” McKnight says. That attitude can be contagious and should be encouraged. Wise employees know that if you stay out of the blab-and-gab loop, you never have to worry that the loop might one day turn into a noose.