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The BBC's Stephen Evans
"Work may be about to become a lot more fun"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 18:10 GMT
Why gossip is good
gossiping at work
As a report finds that gossip is good for business, BBC News Online looks at why employers should encourage chatter around the water cooler.

Psst - did you hear the one about gossiping at work? Apparently, there's this new report out that says it's good for business.

According to Judith Doyle, of the Industrial Society, organisations should bring back the tea trolley and encourage staff to get together for drinks on Friday evenings.

More gossip time
Men work 46.2 hours a week on average
Women work 42 hours a week
80% of employees work overtime
IER figures
And you know what else? Britons are spending more time at work, according to a survey by the Institute for Employment Research (IER).

"Gossip is the cement which holds organisations together," Ms Doyle says.

"Providing communal space, such as coffee areas or lunch rooms, allows employees to share information, knowledge and build relations that benefits both the company and the employee."

Good gossip, bad gossip

Social psychologists say that contrary to popular belief, gossip is not an intrinsically bad thing.

Chatting to workmates is a way to gather information - an instinct humans first developed in the Stone Age, according to Nigel Nicholson, of the London Business School.

Chimps
Bonding experience: Chimps pick fleas, we gossip
Back then, we shared information about where to find food and who was the chief hunter.

Swapping office gossip is a type of grooming, he says, much like chimps picking fleas off each other.

His theory is that if an employee shares a titbit of information, this makes the confidante feel important, that they are someone to be trusted.

However, some gossips practice the black art of muckraking, which can undermine the reputation or position of their colleagues.

Such stories - which may play fast and loose with the facts - can prove the most compelling to share with colleagues.

Professor Nicholas Emler, of Oxford University, has said that gossip is only wrong when it is motivated by malice.

"It's like cars: they're highly useful, but can be driven badly and driving them occasionally results in accidents."

'But what's going on?'

As any employee who has been through a restructuring will know, an atmosphere of insecurity fuels the rumour mill.

"People create rumours when they are uncertain and need to create certainty to fill a vacuum," Professor Nicholson has said.

Gossping in the pub
'And the boss said to me...'
"A good boss should not try to quash rumours and gossip with memos and e-mail, he should get involved in it. I call it management by wandering about."

Three months ago, the Daily Express reinstated the tea trolley.

The move has proved popular with staff, who have no doubt found much to gossip about over the teacups - on Wednesday, OK! owner Richard Desmond bought the ailing newspaper.

One staff member told BBC Radio Four's Today programme that socialising with colleagues - and gossiping about the boss - improved staff morale.

Another said that gossiping served a useful function.

"Through gossiping, you learn that someone's got a problem, or they're a bit unhappy, and you can sort it out."

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