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Does Office Gossip Help or Hurt Us?
Posted by Insightlink on 10/21/16
Most of us would agree that office gossip can be deadly.
Many of us also know how much it hurts to be backstabbed by the people who greet us every day with a smile and cheerful ‘hi’ in the hallway. Yet some researchers have shown that gossip can be good for us and it can even be used to enhance relationships. They have even gone so far to say that talking behind someone’s back can bring about increased harmony amongst co-workers.
As employee research experts we have never worked with a client who has used gossip as part of an action plan, as a means of strengthening communication and morale. So we were intrigued by a study conducted by a research team at Stanford University who discovered that gossip and ostracism were useful tools that groups of employees use positively to encourage cooperation and even reform bullies.
While we may think gossip is malicious and that it undermines trust and morale, this research showed it had positive effects. Participants in the study were encouraged to gossip about colleagues. What they found was that employees aligned themselves with others they perceived were cooperative and like them. The employees who were uncooperative and selfish were identified through gossip, which was encouraged. What was interesting about the study was how the ‘castaways’ or excluded employees behaved in response to being excluded. When they found out others talked about them negatively and then they were ostracized from the group, they changed their behaviors to become more cooperative. With this attitude change they actually returned to the group at a higher level of cooperation.
So gossip in this study had two important Impacts. For the employees who shared cooperative characteristics with others, being encouraged to gossip made it possible for them to align themselves with like co-workers so they could, as a group, protect themselves from selfish behavior. In this way, they could protect themselves from being taken advantage of by these ‘defectors’.
It sounds reasonable but it does not take into account the feelings and emotions of the outcasts and whether they changed sincerely or whether they still held some negative feelings towards the employees who gossiped about them. We all wear masks to fit in when necessary so can we say for sure that gossip helps more than it hurts?
There is no research we could find that proves this conclusively but common sense and the results we have accumulated after decades of conducting employee research informs us that the negative effects of gossip hurts far more than it helps. Gossip, involves spreading lies and half-truths,and the effects we have seen, can be very detrimental for an employee or an organization.
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AboutInsightlink Communications are experts in employee survey design, data collection and analysis. Since 2001 we've helped companies of all sizes measure and improve their employee satisfaction and engagement.
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