Communication Morale

When Is Gossip in the Workplace Helpful?

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A recent study that came out of the University of Amsterdam found that 90 percent of all workplace conversations consist of gossip. Now handling workplace gossip can be challenging at times at this statistic sounds a bit alarming at first. No one likes a gossiper, but the study found that sometimes gossip can be helpful at work.

The Positive Spin to Handling Workplace Gossip

A team of psychologists in the Netherlands says that gossip in the workplace can serve to warn coworkers about others who are not pulling their weight or trying to get lazier workers to pick up the pace via a peer pressure thought process.

Say you have a friend at work that you really like, but they spend an excessive 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 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 could “minimize the negative and optimize the positive consequences (of gossip)” based on handling workplace gossip with a positive spin.

“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 when participating in gossip. 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 this explicit motive may be a reason to instigate gossip.

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

Suppose a manager or boss is fair, equitable and stresses that loyalty to the company and each other is a crucial component to the business’ success. In that case, employees will be more willing to overlook shortcomings and be a cohesive group.

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