Office Gossip: It's Not All Bad
We all know that playing office politics, spreading rumors and sharing the latest gossip are frowned upon and sometimes even forbidden. But a recent study by researchers at the University of Kentucky has found that office gossip isn’t all bad. In fact, certain types of gossip can actually be good for your career. Here’s how.
Need for Speed
Often, the latest gossip clues us into things that are happening before they’re officially announced, which can provide an edge in business dealings. “Information tends to move through informal communication networks with greater speed than through formal channels,” says study co-investigator Travis Grosser, a doctoral candidate in management at the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics. “The timeliness of incoming information often makes the difference as to whether or not [we] can act on it.”
For instance, say you hear someone is leaving the company, creating an opening you’d like to fill. “This kind of information can allow you [to prepare] a case for why you are best-suited for a promotion or raise,” says Joey Price, HR specialist and founder of Push Consultant Group, a career counseling company in metro Washington, DC.
Sometimes office gossip recognizes the positive behaviors of others within an organization. That’s a good thing. Say Marc gossips to Ginny about a big account that Rose just landed. Not only does this make Rose look good, but it could also be the motivation Ginny needs to enhance her own sales skills to compete. That helps her career and the company’s bottom line.
“This can also help link you with people on the rise in the company,” explains Chris Perry, founder of Career Rocketeer, a career-development and personal-branding service in Parsippany, New Jersey. “It also gives you an opportunity to potentially help that person succeed in some fashion. This kind of support may be repaid to you further down your career path.”
Walk the Fine Line
While you can benefit from sharing the latest gossip, there’s definitely a fine line between sharing information and playing office politics. “Negative gossip is used maliciously for character assassination and to undermine the success of others,” Grosser says. “Any gossip that attacks another individual and is of suspect veracity is not very constructive.”
Adds Perry: “You don’t want to be branded as someone who initiates or spreads gossip about the company or people in it. This will hurt the company and will hurt your reputation and personal brand.”
In fact, Grosser’s research found that employees who gossip the most tend to get lower performance evaluations from their supervisors. “Gossiping creates more informal power with peers, but is seen as subversive and negative by supervisors,” he says. To stay out of trouble, be sure to spread only positive news.
Taking the Pulse
Gossip -- whether positive or negative -- can be a diagnostic tool for managers and supervisors. “The gossip that circulates within an organization is an indicator of how employees feel and what they are thinking about,” Grosser says.
For example, listening to gossip prior to or directly after a major organizational change is a good way for managers to learn how employees feel about the change and how they are adjusting to it.
Since everyone gossips -- even managers -- it’s unrealistic to think that you can -- or should -- steer completely clear of the office rumor mill. “It’s highly unlikely that gossip will ever be completely eliminated from organizations,” Grosser says. “Good gossip, however, brings people together, instructs them on the organization’s ideals and how things should be done, and holds people up for heroic actions.”
That may seem counterintuitive, but remember we’re talking about good gossip. Tidbits and stories about an employee’s outstanding performance can become corporate legend.
“These are the myths -- found in many organizations -- about dedicated employees who did something out of the ordinary to help a customer, to save a failing project, to implement a new innovation, etc.,” Grosser explains. “Over the course of time it gets told and retold and eventually becomes a part of the organization’s DNA, and often reflects the values and ideals of the company. These myths can be instructive to employees because they teach them about what is truly valued in that culture. They provide the blueprints for how to act in order to be successful, even though they often start out as simple pieces of gossip.”