Skip to main content

Gossip and Cooler Talk - How far can you take it?

“No man is an island” is a popular and well known line from a John Donne poem. We take it as meaning that, in general, humans can’t live in complete isolation. Although as individuals we have our set of values and beliefs, we certainly influence each other -even those values and beliefs were built on influencing factors (parents, society, etc.).

In organizations, we interact with coworkers, managers, and customers, so at work we are part of a social system, where all the parts are interdependent. Managers play an important role in setting the tone and to give “an organizational identity to employees”, what the company’s values and shared mission are (1).

But employees, are the most important part of the system. Their attitudes will affect not only their own performance, but can also affect other employees, and obviously the company too as performance and productivity increases or decreases.

A particular pervasive and corrosive is office politics. Office politics can be defined as, “the subtle and informal methods of gaining any type of power or advantage" (2).  The key there: subtle and informal. We’re not going to find rules in the employee’s manual or the company’s standard/operational procedures on how to navigate or play office politics. Office politics involve a lot of gossip, and it mostly happens around the water cooler (hence the phrase “water cooler group”) or where people often gather for casual chat.

At a previous job, there were cliques and they always had a complaint about management, or gossip about another clique. It was like High School all over again. While it’s important not to engage in gossip and never, ever repeat it, no matter how tempting it is, it’s also important not to adopt a “holier-than-thou” attitude to avoid gossip or office politics. Just keeping a friendly, respectful attitude without giving in to gossip.

(1) Newstrom, John. Organizational Behavior: Human Behavior at Work, 14th Edition. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 01/2015. VitalSource Bookshelf Online.
(2) Andrica, Diane C. Handling Office Politics. 1999. Nursing Economics 17.3: 156. ProQuest. Web. Retrieved 15 Feb 2019.