Office Gossip: Can't Live With It, Shouldn't Live Without ItS

The New York Times' John Tierney asks: "Could adults gossiping in the office be more devious than the teenagers in Gossip Girl?" The answer, of course, is: Yes. And a new study reveals that gossip in the workplace? Overwhelmingly negative.

Dr. Tim Hallett, a sociologist at Indiana University, published the study in the latest issue of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography along with Dr. Eder and Brent Harger of Albright College. The researchers spent two years studying the group dynamics at a Midwestern elementary school, where they found that not only were the students say cruel things about each other — the teachers, when in a group, were nasty as well.

Kids being mean is one thing — the study transcribes a cafeteria conversation in which a group of eighth-grade girls talk about an overweight classmate, calling her a cow. But what happened when the teachers gossiped, and mocked the principal?

The principal felt that her authority was being undermined by gossip and retaliated against teachers she suspected (correctly) of criticizing her. Teachers and administrators fled the school, and the students' test scores declined.

While I don't condone mean-spirited gossip, I do think that gossip in the workplace can be a good thing. Because gossiping is communicating. Bonding with coworkers over the crap in the vending machine, the new lady in accounting or the new guy in the mailroom can bring you closer together. Dr. Hallett makes this point, saying, according to Science Daily, "Be aware that what is going on is a form of politics and it's a form of politics that can be a weapon to undermine people who aren't present. But it also can be a gift. If people are talking positively it can be a way to enhance someone's reputation."

Can You Believe How Mean Office Gossip Can Be? [NY Times]
Gossip In The Workplace: A Weapon Or Gift? [Science Daily]