Christmas party gossip good for staff

GOSSIPING at the Christmas party could be good for staff morale, a Staffordshire University study suggests.

Dr Jenny Cole, lecturer in Social Psychology, has been researching how important gossip is; challenging the idea that it is a negative habit.

She suggests that a drop of sherry and festive merrymaking can help staff open up and share entertaining information about colleagues, form better social bonds and increase team cohesion.

She said: “There’s something special about Christmas as a time at work. Everyone starts to wind-down and acts in a way which is more relaxed. This might mean that we are better able to glean information from people as they let their guard down.

“When people are more relaxed, we are more likely to learn about the ‘real them’ – a drop or two of sherry will see to that!

“And sharing juicy information with others can increase social bonds between co-workers which helps to promote team cohesion. A team that works well together is more productive so the company wins too.”

Dr Cole’s research also revealed gossip has psychological benefits such as boosting self esteem. We can learn acceptable behaviour in different social groups, compare ourselves to others to make ourselves feel better, and discover who is a good ally.

She added: “I always fear that gossip will be seen as a flaky or trivial topic. Indeed in times gone by gossip was described as ‘trivial women's talk’ but once you start to point out the ways in which gossip is important, people can relate to those reasons and take it more seriously.

“Despite lots of ideas about how gossip can be beneficial to us, there is really very little research that focuses on the benefits. I found that gossiping about others affects our self esteem – for better or worse, depending on what we say – and that higher levels of gossiping are associated with higher levels of self reported social support, especially from friends.”

Dr Cole’s findings are based on data from two studies. The first asked 160 participants to fill in questionnaires about their tendency to engage in gossiping behaviour and their perceived social support. The second was conducted with a Staffordshire University graduate, Hannah Scrivener, and measured changes in self esteem in 140 participants as a result of engaging in gossip behaviour.

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