Monday, September 27, 2010

Gossip At Work

By Barbara LaBier

Gossip at work benefits individuals and organizations—although in some manager’s opinion it is derogatory. When caught gossipers are punished with lower performance ratings.

Doctoral students in management from the University of Kentucky performed a study surveying 30-40 employees about their social networks and who they gossiped with and the influence that each colleague had. The more staff members gossiped the more influence they showed and the better was their understanding of their social environment.

Gossip can be useful if there is change going on in an organization when the flow of information is stifled then the few that are in the know can spread it and relieve anxiety. Conventional wisdom says just the opposite – supposedly gossip breeds stress and uncertainty. While it can cause fear research shows it does the reverse by building an emotional connection which provides social and emotional support. On the negative side, gossip consists of half-truths and hearsay and can absorb the staff’s time. So how can it be valuable?

By studying the network the study indicates it’s easy to discover who is a bully, or who is difficult to work with. For the manager it can be a great tool for hearing troublesome issues. Positive gossip is more typical than negative. Out of 72 percent of gossip relationships, positive gossip ranked 21 % while negative was only 7%.

Some bosses believe that gossip is subversive because the more someone gossips the more influence they have among peers. In away, it has a democratizing force and levels the playing field between managers and employees and is a threat to bosses who want complete control. In this study managers gave lower ratings to employees who gossiped more. Often managers try to squelch gossip without addressing the problems that was generating it.

Managers gossip too, because they say they need a lot of information to do their work. But are they gossiping with the right people? Do they say what the manager thinks or introduce information about the state of the company or are they people who are critical about the functioning of the company. If they are not happy at work, they can find many ways o bring the organization down. The number of people supervisors gossip with  are 7.4 people. The average numbers of people nonsupevisors gossip with are 3.9. 

The study was carried on by Giuseppe Joe Labianca , a Gatton Endowed Associate Professor of Management at the University of Kentucky/ Linked Center for Research on Social networks in business exam med social interactions in a branch of a US company

Gossip At Work

This article was excerpted from the August/September 2010, Harvard Business Review.

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