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Gossip in the office

There is gossip in every company. That's a good thing, because gossip has an important function for the working atmosphere: it strengthens cohesion. But everything has its limits. It becomes dangerous when gossip is exploited. A guide to when employers should step in.
 

 

by Peter Ilg

"Have you heard? The miller from Controlling should take over the management of the entire accounting! And did you actually know that Maier from Purchasing has something with her boss?" Wherever people are together, there is gossip. But do gossip harm a company?

Gossip: Social cement for every company

"No," says Dr. Tim Hagemann, professor at the chair for work, organizational and health psychology at the Diakonie University of Applied Sciences in Bielefeld. People are just social beings and are therefore interested in the social constellations that surround them. "The exchange between colleagues is social cement for a company, and the idea that employees give their curiosity at the gate doesn't work."

That is why there is gossip and gossip everywhere. In the office, in the hallway, on the assembly line and in the canteen. In all companies, in every industry and across all hierarchical levels. A company in which there is no gossip is not alive.

The educational function of gossip

Psychologists differentiate between two levels of exchange. If the colleague's new hairstyle is discussed, this is solely for the exchange of information. "More interesting are topics with which the social reality of a company is shaped and which show how the organization behaves towards the individual."

Case in point: “Have you heard? Marlene received a warning because she was three times late for work! ”Even if it is unclear whether this was actually the case - the silent post effect works. Every employee at this company learns that it is better to be on time.

When does gossip become a problem?

"Gossip only becomes a problem when people strategically exploit the gossip to take advantage of it, discredit or bully others," says Hagemann. If this behavior encounters an environment in which the gossip is also rewarded - in the worst case by the superiors - it creates a corporate culture characterized by mistrust.

Then the employees start clapping strategically. "You inform the boss' informant in the safe knowledge that he will pass it on to him," says psychologist Hagemann, explaining the mechanism.

Establish clear rules of conduct

Good managers intervene here and insist on compliance with rules of conduct. The most important are:

  • You don't talk about them in the absence of third parties.
  • A manager should be confident enough to always talk to those affected and not to third parties about those involved or affected. That creates trust.

Minimize gossip

But to eliminate gossip completely - from a psychological point of view, that is not at all desirable. Dr. Michael Kastner is a psychologist, philosopher and doctor, holds a professorship for organizational psychology at the University of Dortmund and is also the scientific director of the institute
"The talk cannot be completely banished."

That is not bad. On the contrary: mutual exchange promotes community because you get closer to each other. Gossip also helps reduce social pressure. "Gossip is an important topic for us. This is how we find out what worries some employees have," says Brigitte Preuss, HR manager at Allianz in Stuttgart. She also considers the exchange of information among colleagues below the official information level to be important because it can be used to resolve tensions, for example when there is dissatisfaction with business decisions.

Legal boundaries of gossip

But beware! The basic right to freedom of expression is not a free ticket for gossiping to your heart's content. "Employees are by no means free to insult their colleagues and superiors or to damage the employer's reputation," says Ulrike Badewitz, a specialist lawyer for labor law in Berlin. The employee owes the employer a minimum of loyalty. "If he does not adhere to it, there may be a violation of the employment contract, which entitles him to terminate the contract without notice.

(Photo: istockphoto)

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