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Woman in foreground with group of people gossiping in the background of an office

New research by Durham University Business School and NEOMA Business School highlights the detrimental effects of negative workplace gossip on career advancement.

Conducted by Dr Maria Kakarika, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Leadership, alongside colleagues at NEOMA Business School. The study reveals that gossiping not only leads to social exclusion within the company but also results in negative career consequences for the individuals engaging in such behaviour. 

Unpacking workplace gossip 

The collaborative study aimed to investigate colleagues' responses to workplace gossip and its potential impact on the gossiper's professional and social standing. Three separate studies were conducted to analyse participants' reactions and perceptions of gossipers.  

In the first experiment, almost 200 participants were presented with a workplace scenario in which a colleague was either gossiping or not. Afterwards, participants completed a survey based on the scenario, which explored their views on the gossiper in terms of their morality. 

The second study involved 500 participants, manipulating the gender of the gossiper to identify if gender had an impact on colleagues’ views of gossipers. They also measured the behavioural reactions of participants towards the gossiper. 

The final study surveyed over 200 participants across various organisations, focusing on past gossiping incidents in their own workplaces to identify consequences resulting from gossip. 

Consequences for gossipers

The findings revealed that gossipers were generally viewed negatively in the workplace, leading to social exclusion through actions such as removal from social media groups and decreased communication. 

Gender played a role, with women holding a more negative view of workplace gossipers than men. Most significantly, gossiping had adverse effects on career progression, as participants were inclined to give low performance ratings, recommend bonus reductions, or hinder potential promotions for gossiping peers. 

“Gossiping is pretty commonplace in all workplaces. Whether it’s a small comment about someone’s work, or something more personal and less work-related, we’ve all engaged in it either through gossiping ourselves or hearing someone gossip.” says Dr Kakarika.  

“But it is highly likely that gossiping can be reduced in the workplace if people were aware that it says much about the gossiper too rather than only about the person they are gossiping about. This workplace gossiping can have real negative impacts on their career progression”.  

Organisational strategies to mitigate

Despite the challenge of policing employee gossip, the researchers suggest that organizations should actively inform employees about the potential negative consequences, hoping to mitigate workplace gossip and its associated career implications. 

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