Communication Morale

Gossip, Gossip Everywhere – Even at Work

A recent study that came out of the University of Amsterdam found that 90 percent of all workplace conversations consist of gossip.

That sounds a bit alarming at first.  No one likes a gossip, but the study found that sometimes gossip can be helpful at work.

A team of psychologists in the Netherlands say that gossip in the workplace can serve a purpose to warn co-workers about others who are not pulling their weight or to try to get lazier workers to pick up the pace.

Say you have a friend at work that you really like, but they spend an inordinate amount of time texting their friends, online shopping or other time wasters.  A good piece of gossip to pass along might be, “Hey, I heard the boss is really cracking down on non-work related activities and I would hate for you to get in trouble.”

That would constitute as gossip, but you’re trying to help someone out in the process.

Bianca Beersma and Professor Gerben VanKleef, co-authors of the study, said that organizations can “minimize the negative and optimize the positive consequences (of gossip).”

“Speech makes it possible for group members to warn each other against those who do not behave in accordance with the group’s norms,” they wrote in the study.

The study asked 121 university’s undergrads for their motive in gossiping. Although answers varied, some said they chose to gossip to protect a group from harmful behavior among members.

“Moral codes derived from Christian and Jewish religions condemn gossip and incorporate a number of severe punishments designed to discourage it,” the authors wrote. “Even in societies in which religion no longer plays a central role, gossip is often frowned upon and is seen as reproachable.

But is gossiping really that negative? By gossiping, one can warn group members against others who violate group norms, and it is possible that this explicit motive is a reason to instigate gossip.”

So, gossip can be a positive thing, but in order to cultivate an environment that has little to no negative gossip – that has to come from the top down.

If a manager or boss is fair, equitable and stresses that loyalty to company and to each other is a key component to the success of the business, then employees will be more willing to overlook shortcomings and be a cohesive group.