Office gossip: a petty issue or a legitimate problem?

Recently, it seems like the latter. Last year, a Google employee was fired after forwarding her mom an email about Lady Gaga coming to speak at the company’s campus. When Enron folded, archivists discovered that nearly 15% of emails between employees were pure gossip. With the surge of technology and apps like Secret, gossip seems to travels faster and stealthier than ever before.

The office can be a treacherous incubator for negative social chatter. You’re surrounded by the same people all day, all week, all year, and your lives often intersect at post-work events and happy hours. If any kind of slanderous conversation gets exposed to the wrong colleague it can make for an uncomfortable work climate or worse, ruin your career.

So, how is gossip started? What greases the wheels of this malicious time-wasting activity? In many cases its boredom, it can stem from one’s insecurity about their work performance, the desire to forge camaraderie with co-workers, or just a way to blow off steam. Whatever the reason, it’s an endeavor that typically does more harm than good.

However, there are some who believe that gossip might have some positive side effects. UC Berkeley conducted a studywhere they placed heart-rate monitors on a group of people playing a board game. Every time players witnessed cheating their heart rates escalated, but whenever they gave or listened to advice, their heart rates slowed down to a healthy beat.

Tim Hallet, a sociologist at Indiana University, calls gossip “a form of reputational warfare.” He spent two years studying social dynamics at a Midwestern elementary school, both in youth and adult sectors. He learned that gossip is one of the most comfortable forms of dialogue. During his one-on-one interviews, teachers would voluntarily throw around insulting comments about their bosses. However, during staff meetings, teachers became more tactful, and would “test the waters” with subtle sarcastic remarks.

Interested in keeping your job? Err on the side of safety and keep your criticisms to yourself or find a patient non-work friend that will listen to your office grievances.

Or better yet, check out TurnKey’s listings and maybe you’ll find a space where you can retreat far away from the a-list gossipers, and never worry about saying the wrong thing ever again.

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