April 17, 2024
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Did you hear? Binghamton student’s research shows benefits of workplace gossip

Binghamton University School of Management doctoral student's research explores how workplace gossip can help employees, improve an organization's effectiveness

Huddled in a corner of the office, several colleagues are whispering.

“Did you hear they’re not handing out annual raises this year? What is management thinking?!”

One coworker floats a potential explanation, perhaps one based on second-hand information. The group trades theories in hushed voices. They don’t want any managers to overhear.

No matter where people work, gossip exists. It could be something simple: venting about how the latest decision from management adds to the daily workload. It could also be malicious: negative remarks about a fellow employee designed to make their job more difficult.

Gossip often carries a negative connotation. But a recently published study involving research from Binghamton University’s School of Management (SOM) shows how some workplace gossip could reduce the likelihood of employee turnover and, as a result, potentially boost an organization’s effectiveness.

“Organizations should be aware of the impact of positive gossip because turnover can be a very important factor in dictating an organization’s success,” said Jinhee Moon, a SOM doctoral student who conducted the study with a team of other researchers. “To make employees participate in positive gossip, the organization should do the right things by treating their employees well, and being aware their behaviors can show they care about their employees.”

While studies linked to workplace gossip aren’t new, Moon’s work builds upon previous research by exploring how employees who gossip might experience social gains. Moon previously worked on a study that dealt with why people participate in gossipy behavior at their workplace, and the recent publication is connected to her own leadership research focus at SOM, which centers on interpersonal relationships and social networks.

For the recent study, Moon and fellow researchers surveyed 338 health workers in South Korea on positive and negative forms of workplace gossip related to their organizations and management. Some of the topics included:

  • “At work, I sometimes complain about my organization when management is absent.”
  • “If I feel treated badly by management, I talk about this to my colleagues.”
  • “I sometimes praise my organization’s capability when the management is absent.”

Moon said the research showed gossip is viewed as more valuable when people positively talk about their management or organization. Health workers who participated in the survey expressed more interest in information they could use to enhance or maintain their organizational status.

The study also indicated no relationship between negative gossip and coercive power in the workplace, which Moon said proved contrary to what researchers had expected.

“We expected that if you participate in negative gossip, maybe you’re trying to appear powerful or controlling or want to ‘beat someone up,’ but we couldn’t find any supportive results,” Moon said. “If anything, we found that people didn’t value that type of gossip as information and just saw it as someone who wants to complain. So, if you’re thinking about negative workplace gossip, you might want to save your time because there’s no positive impact for you.”

But one of the most helpful aspects of the research, as Moon saw it, was how it highlighted that participating in positive gossip among one’s coworkers could reduce the chances of voluntary employee turnover.

“It can be very hard just to quit your job, and if you’re experiencing difficulty where you work, maybe you want to participate in positive gossip with your colleagues and talk about some of the more bearable aspects of the organization,” Moon said. “Eventually, that can help you gain some personal power. It’s a very convenient way to reduce negative feelings toward your own workplace, which can help you more in the long run.”

Posted in: Campus News, SOM