While lying, spreading lies, and judging others (because of lies you've heard) is unethical, there are aspects of workplace gossip that could beneficial.
You know the scene: a group of two or more people huddled together.
The first thing most people do when gossiping is to move closer to the speaker. With perked ears and curious facial expressions, whoever has the floor lowers their voice. And there’s always one person who has their eye on the door, ready to warn the rest when unsuspecting listeners barge in. And even though no one wants others to hear what’s being said, it will probably spread like wildfire ‘round the office regardless.
The secrecy surrounding gossip indicates we’re all aware that gossiping is bad, potentially dangerous, and possibly untrue. But we do it anyway, even at work.
But gossip isn’t necessarily as horrible as you previously thought. While lying, spreading lies, and judging others and judging others (because of lies you've heard) is unethical, there are aspects of workplace gossip that could be beneficial.
And if you think about it, workplace gossip is actually just another means of sharing information. For example…
1. It carries new possibilities
The rumour mill isn’t just about hearing Karin’s pregnant, John’s drug problem, or Thando’s retirement; it also informs you about a possible change in your future.
It gives you a chance to dust the cobwebs off your CV, allows you time to do extra research on the new role, and start honing those skills you’ll need to increase your suitability for promotion – all before anything is even officially announced. That way, you are already prepared.
2. It bears forewarnings
The rumour mill is where you’ll hear about impending retrenchments, departments performing poorly, and cash flow that’s drying up. It also tells you why star employees are leaving, and where they’re leaving too.
The rumour mill gives you information so that you can start fishing for other (better) opportunities even before your current position is in jeopardy.
3. It creates a support group
Partaking in office gossip allows you to take the temperature of your co-workers. If you are treated poorly, it’s great to have your feelings validated by others who see what’s happening and who are experiencing similar difficulties.
A sense of camaraderie builds when co-workers complain to each other about systems that aren’t working. This is also good for the company, as an opportunity for change now exists and improvements can be made.
4. It regulates your behaviour
The rumour mill is a great place to hear about unacceptable behaviour. As soon as you hear about the disapproval of Jackie’s loud chewing habits, you check your own behaviour for similar transgressions. Immediately you become aware of how NOT to act at work.
Frowning upon certain types of behaviour while praising others, is a means to create and control company culture.
5. It helps you help others
Gossip is able to make you understand how each person needs to be treated, when their behaviour can be excused, and when they may need assistance from the company.
If there’s a co-worker you ‘just don’t understand’ the rumour mill may offer a few reasons that explain why they are the way they are. Changing your perception and removing all judgement, could greatly increase your relationships with your co-workers.
With that said, be very careful
Take everything you hear with a pinch of salt, and do not spread new information as facts.
As with all gossip, even helpful information could be untrue as it’s still unconfirmed stories. Even if you didn’t start a lie (or innocently believed a lie), spreading the lie (even if you think it’s the truth) will be just as much your fault.
Also, when gossip no longer serves as a point of information sharing, and instead morphs into bullying, belittling and ridiculing, it’s time to walk away from the conversation.
If you think it’s time to rethink your approach to office life, we've got some great advice to help you improve your office etiquette (and your colleague's opinion of you!) Browse all our articles here...