Gossip spillover


..When issues at work follow you home

It has been claimed that the workplace is a rich place for gossips. True. With people vying for limited resources, jostling for few positions, and seeking favour from both colleagues and superiors, the workplace is indeed ripe grounds for gossiping, especially of the negative kind. If someone badly wanted your position, it is easy for the one to help spread negative untruths about you, information that could make your position, or even your job, very shaky. A damaged reputation can be very difficult to repair and this might lead to unwanted consequences.

In a paper presented at the 2009 Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society, researchers claimed that “14% of the coffee break in the workplace is actually gossip, and approximately 66% of the general communication between employees is talking about other topics of colleagues.” That’s a lot of nattering, chattering and blathering. A 2010 publication in the Organisational Dynamics journal, titled “The Cost of Bad Behavior”, asserted that gossiping and other forms of “dark behaviour” were actually on the rise in workplaces.

As humans, we naturally tend to gossip. The truth is that gossip is an expected part of our lives. It is as ubiquitous as humans. Where two or more people congregate, there is always bound to be some form of gossip, the workplace included. Maybe, because sociologists tell us that there are benefits to gossips. For instance, it is said that gossips within a community help in maintaining good behaviours. Knowing that people will say things behind their backs, something viciously, is enough to get individuals to behave well. At least, that is the expectation.

It has also been suggested that gossiping serves as an important, albeit informal, means of communication within the workplace. Not all important information can be sent through a formal channel. Some will be disseminated via the “grapevine”. Also, when official information that is presented is unclear, sometimes, it will take these “informal channels” to better explain matters around the workplace.

Benefits or no benefits, one thing is sure. There is enough proof that workplace gossip does more harm than it does any good. Negative workplace gossip can have real effects on people. Academically defined as “the negative and informal valuation that organizational members discuss or maliciously spread about another member who is absent,” negative workplace gossip leaves nothing but disaster in its wake.

In my experience, workplace gossip can be weaponised against individuals. A colleague who has an issues with you can resort to spreading information about you to others, information that might be entirely untrue. As a matter of fact, workplace gossip has been categorised by some studies as a form of workplace abuse, much like any other. When the gossip becomes vitriolic and ends up tarnishing the image of the individual, then it definitely has moved into abuse. If you have ever been at the receiving end of such an attack, you would realise that sticks and stones may only break bones but negative words can hurt even more.

The psychological trauma that comes with workplace gossiping has disastrous effects on the individual’s performance at work. The individual’s motivation will be affected, as coming to work every day becomes a burden. People who have suffered from workplace gossiping have been found to be less efficient at work. They might make more mistakes at work. Job satisfaction goes out of the window when the workplace becomes toxic. Also, it has been discovered that the stress of workplace gossip dampens the creativity and innovation of employees.

Negative workplace gossip can also lead to mistrust among colleagues and this greatly affects teamwork. The importance of teamwork to offering excellent customer service is a known fact. Therefore, through its damage to internal team work, negative workplace gossip can actually affect customer service negatively.

What makes negative workplace gossip hard to deal with are its characteristics. For instance, one trait of this phenomenon is that it is based on people’s subjective perceptions. Oftentimes, the negative information making the rounds about someone is simply because of someone’s subjective interpretation of an incident. Without subjecting the information to any logical analysis, people accept the information and off it goes around the office. Dealing with what is going on in someone else’s mind is not an easy task. That is why open dialogue is always important in the workplace.

Another characteristic of negative workplace gossip is its evil intent. In fact, workplace gossip is negative because the one spreading the information might know it is not true but the one will still go ahead and share the information. Evil or malicious intent is a moral issue and that is very difficult to deal with. People without moral values are difficult to deal with and even more difficult to work side by side with. I guess that is why in many offices around this country, the day starts with prayers and morning devotions. Some things can only be dealt with spiritually, I guess.

One thing about negative gossip is that it is sometimes very difficult to trace the origins of the gossip. Struggling to find out who started a round of gossip makes it equally difficult to manage the gossip. The inability to readily identify the originator cum culprit means people can get away with malice—and when people know they will not be found out for their bad deeds, it emboldens them to do more of the same.

Negative workplace gossip is also known for the speed with which it spreads around the office. A matter that starts in one small corner of the office would be all over the office before noon. By lunchtime, even those absent from the office, those at home on leave, would have received the information. Spreading at the speed of sound means that it becomes extremely difficult to bring negative workplace gossip under control. If the matter is not nipped in the bud before it gets out, it becomes almost impossible to manage it.

From the ongoing discussion, it is clear to see that workplace gossip can have a huge toll on an individual. However, the effect of negative workplace gossip does not just end in the office. For the bachelor, straight from school, who gets employed, the negative effects of workplace gossip might not be too telling. But that is definitely not the case for the married employee. It seems we have underestimated the power of negative gossip at work.

It is true that many people carry their work with them home. There are those who have documents and files from work scattered all over the house. They are even those who literally sleep with those documents on their beds. To meet tight deadlines, many of these people have no other choice than to go home with their work. However, there are also those times when work follows people home without their notice and without their consent. This is the spillover effect.

When an employee is under so much stress from the workplace that the one’s attitude, actions and behaviours at home are greatly affected, that is the spillover effect. It has been found in a recent study that one of the issues that can follow employees home is the effect of workplace gossip.

In a study titled, The work–family spillover and crossover effects of negative workplace gossip, researchers examined how the negative effects of workplace gossip affected the target of the gossip after work. Published in the July 2020 edition of the Frontiers in Psychology journal, the results indicated that indeed there was a link between workplace gossip and work-family conflict. This results of this study, which was carried out in among married couples in China, has also, more recently, been published in the August 2023 edition of The Service Industries Journal.

From the above study, it seems the effect of this destructive force is not just limited to the employee being gossiped about. The one’s family back at home is also not spared. The simple explanation given for why workplace gossip negatively affects employees after work and at home is that human beings deploy resources to go through a day. These resources are both emotional and psychological. People prefer not to lose these valuable resources.

According to the explanation, negative workplace gossip tends to drain the resources of individuals as people are forced to deploy their psychological resources to deal with the gossip. Therefore, by the time the individual gets home the one has not much to give. This inability to be a better mate at home tends to create additional stress which the one carries back to work the next day. Thus, initiating a vicious cycle.

If the affected employee happens to be someone whose job involves dealing with customers, then the effects of workplace gossip becomes a lot more important. This is because the one will eventually offload those negative feelings on customers. People by nature struggle to harbour negative emotions. The more the negative emotions pile up, the greater the propensity for the individual to erupt. If the one does not manage to release the pent up stress, it is only a matter of time before the one explodes.

It is a truth that work and family happen to be two of the most important aspects of an individual’s life. These two are so intertwined that an issue in one aspect will definitely affect the other. As can be seen from the ongoing discussion, what happens at work does not always stay at work. Business managers and supervisors must know this and strive to do something about it. It is important for managers to have an idea of what is going on in the lives of employees, especially those who interface with customers on a regular basis. If the business is to put its best foot forward, then it is important that those people who face customers do not have to deal with the spillover of negative workplace gossip.

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