Psst… Can you keep a secret?
Recent research by Stanford University found gossip in the workplace may actually enable your organisation to work better. In fact, it fosters a greater sense of cooperation and, believe it or not, a greater sense of morality among colleagues.
The Stanford University team asked 216 participants to play a standard game often used in research which asks group members to make financial decisions.
However, the game was structured such that it became tempting for each individual to freeload and contribute nothing. In this particular study, participants were allowed to gossip about who played nice and who played dirty between rounds of the game.
As the game progressed, the researchers found gossip allowed the participants to identify and ostracise selfish players, pushing the whole group toward being more cooperative. It also let those who were inclined to be helpful but who feared being exploited have a freer hand to act honorably.
Matthew Feinberg, co-author of the study, explained the implications of the results of the experiment to The Telegraph: “Groups that allow their members to gossip sustain cooperation and deter selfishness better than those that don’t. And groups do even better if they can gossip and ostracise untrustworthy members.”
While both types of behaviors can be misused, the findings “suggest that they also serve very important functions for groups and society”.
What does this mean for businesses in particular? Assuming gossip is being used to judge and cause mutiny against genuinely bad behaviour, it could help isolate and reform bullies and ineffective employees, while simultaneously fostering a “moral police” within the workplace.
In addition, it may aid employers in identifying delinquent behaviour, and increases communication and brotherhood within the company.
Now go ahead and complain about that jerk in the office behind his back… you might be doing everyone a favour!