When you find out that your co-worker told half of the staff members at the office that you and your wife are having marital problems, it can feel like taking a kick in the stomach while not being allowed to whisper “ouch!” Office gossip is hard to bear for those who are targets. But gossip at the workplace is likely here to stay. What can you do about it if you are the victim?
Start by looking at your own behavior. Are you yourself an office gossip or an office bully? If so, then your new status as a victim may just be the sweet revenge of your co-workers.
According to psychologist Matthew Feinberg and co-workers, gossip may serve a regulatory purpose. The researchers asked 216 participants, divided into groups, to play a game and make financial choices that would benefit their group as a whole. The game allowed group members to benefit egocentrically by free-riding off of other group members’ financial choices. The researchers then divided the participants into new groups but allowed them to gossip about their prior group members. Future group members then received that gossip and could choose to ostracize free-riding subjects before making their next contributions.