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Why Gossip at Work is Good

Digested from Inc.

While you may think gossip destroys productivity, research says it may actually be good for organizations.

Conventional wisdom says that gossip is bad in the workplace. It can hinder efficiency and spread dissent. But Greg Satell writes for Inc. that gossip may be good for the workplace, citing Sandy Pentland’s book Social Physics.

“The most important predictor of success in a group, as it turns out, is the amount -- not the content -- of social interaction,” Satell writes. “It doesn't matter if they are discussing technical details or just idle chit chat, more talk drives productivity.”

Pentland proved his case in an experiment with call center employees. He equipped teams with sociometric badges and discovered that “that interaction and engagement outside formal meetings accounted for one third of the variation of dollar productivity between groups.”

Instead of sending people on coffee breaks individually, Pentland advocated for sending them out as teams. That change led to an increase of $15 million in productivity. Expanding the size of lunch tables to increase the amount of people interacting was also effective.

The interconnected modern work environment may be the may reason that studies like Pentland’s show that gossip can increase productivity.

“So much of what we do today requires interoperability between teams, suppliers and customers,” Satell writes. “So what may seem like idle chit chat often serves as an exploration into the context of others who operate within our professional ecosystem. Before we know it, we've come across that smidgen of information that takes us in a new direction.”

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