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Home > Work Life BalancePsst... did you know it isn't unprofessional to gossip at work?

Psst… did you know it isn’t unprofessional to gossip at work?

We’re all guilty of gossiping at work. From innocuous chatter about a colleague’s wedding or the birth of a child to more toxic tales about a disgraced manager or coworker’s affair, we have surreptitiously spread stories.

Research shows that gossiping is a normal human instinct and office tattle is a widespread phenomenon. Researchers from the University of Amsterdam found that over 90% of conversations that take place in the office can be categorized as gossip, while a Georgia Institute of Technology study concluded that 15% of all office email conversations can be said to constitute gossip.

Though pervasive across all levels at work, company managements continue to frown upon the trend of office gossip. The list of complaints, all of which lead to the creation of an unhealthy office environment, is long and well known. Gossip is a waste of time and productivity; it ruins reputations and creates great anxiety among workers.

Peter Vajda, an American speaker, thinker, and author, has gone so far as to call gossip a form of workplace violence and “essentially a form of attack”. Other experts see it as a classic symptom of an unhealthy attitude towards work, arguing it is only unprofessional employees who believe it is okay and acceptable to gossip in the office.

But gossip can be good



A growing body of experts, however, believes that not all tattle is terrible. There is nothing malicious, after all, about informing a colleague about another colleague’s wedding date. So long as it is wholesome, gossip can actually be good for an organization. More and more experts are coming to believe that gossip helps build camaraderie within a team so long as it does not cross the line.

A recent study titled Hearing it through the Grapevine: Positive and Negative Workplace Gossip analyzing social interactions in an American company concluded that gossip can “benefit individuals and organizations by increasing their understanding of their social environment”. While there is no denying the ill-effects of workplace gossip, it is only fair to take into account its advantages as well—namely, helping employees connect personally with peers, giving workers a sense of social and emotional security and assisting the flow of information during periods of crisis or change. The authors of the study cite an interesting reason why companies discourage gossip—it threatens managerial control. People who gossip are rated more highly than their peers in terms of informal influence, the study adds.

Work Life Balance

 

Gossip can be good for an organization because:

  • It can make work enjoyable. Having good co-workers is a top reason for people to continue in their jobs. Gossiping helps teammates form strong bonds.

  • It’s a great way to relax at work. Swapping stories at the water-cooler during a short break may not be a trip to the spa, but it’s downtime all the same.

  • It tells you a lot about your workplace. Is the company strict about timings? Can you get permission to work from home? Office gossip speaks volumes about company culture.

  • It’s a team-building exercise. Gossipmongers are great communicators, which is a transferable skill that can be used at work.

  • It’s reassuring. Want to know why your salaries are coming late? Or an update about the company merger? Gossip helps share worries, and seek support and comfort.

    A blanket ban on gossip is neither practical nor desirable at work. Instead, employees must learn to distinguish between good and bad gossip. Indulging in the former does not automatically make you “unprofessional” and can even benefit you and the organization. But it is important to know your limits—both in terms regulating time spent in tittle-tattle as well as learning to shut yourself out when the conversation takes a malicious turn. No workplace should be just a hotbed of gossip.

Make sure you aren’t known only as a gossip monger after you #FindBetterFaster with Monster, the official supporter of #WorkLifeBalance.

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