When most people see two workers unnaturally close together at the water cooler, they immediately assume that these two are spreading cancerous and relationship-hindering office gossip. While this may be the case, it isn’t necessarily so. Though the word "gossip" has come to have a decidedly negative connotation, gossip isn’t always bad. Sometimes, gossip can actually improve the workplace climate, strengthening relationships instead of breaking them down. By acknowledging the natural desire for gossip and better understanding its potential positives, you may succeed in improving the climate of your 9-to-5 home.
Want your workers to be more close-knit? Gossip may be an effective tool for these workers to use in forging their bonds, suggests Frank McAndrew, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. The sharing of gossip can actually work as a powerful glue, holding together the sharer and recipient. When one worker receives information from another, she feels powerful, liked and cared about. The forming of these relationships, suggests this psychology professor, may actually be more helpful than harmful.
Focus on the Positive
Gossiping is only a problem if people are discussing negative things that others have done or spreading rumors that are inflammatory in nature. The Canadian Mental Health Association suggests that one method to reduce the spread of negative gossip is to promote the sharing of “positive gossip.” Tell workers that they can gossip away as long as they are only discussing good things that others have done. As word of exemplary work done by co-workers spreads throughout your office space, you will likely feel positive effects, with talked-about workers basking in the glow of being recognized.
Voice for the Voiceless
For workers who feel like their voice is never heard, gossip can be a valuable tool, says Donna Eder, co-author of “Strategies of Adult Gossip.” When you aren’t on the top of the heap at work, it is easy to feel as if no one is keen to hear what you have to say. When you have a gossip channel through which to pass your information, you feel largely more appreciated. By creating and maintaining these channels, workers can form outlets for themselves. Having these outlets can, in turn, make them more contented -- and potentially, more productive -- workers.
If a worker is upset about something and has no one with whom to share her grievance, she will likely let it fester, making her more and more chagrined each day. If, on the other hand, she has a workplace gossip buddy to whom she can voice her worries, and from whom she can receive some sympathy, she may be able to get over being upset more quickly. While it is hard for many superiors to handle, a worker gossiping about a proposed change to the business model or other business-related topic may actually be beneficial, as this worker’s co-gossiper can serve as a sounding board, and with whom she can come to terms with the change.
Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, Trails.com and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.