You are waiting for handover and you just heard something very interesting about a work colleague.

Gossip – is it negative or positive? 

Can workplace gossiping impact on nursing burnout and quality of care provided to our patients?

Does chatting about a nursing colleague’s mistake at work impact on more than just that colleague? 

A recent study sought to examine the association between gossip, burnout, quality of care and patient safety in a hospital setting. 

Gossip is a casual way communicating information about other people which are not confirmed as true. 

Gossip is also a way of information sharing. 

In previous studies, gossip has been shown to account for 65% of all speaking time in every day life.

In many organisations gossip is a manifestation of the culture and can provide some interesting insights into the current work environment. 

However it has rarely been studied in healthcare environments, and never been studied in light of burnout or quality of care outcomes. 

Gossip is expected by many to occur in high pressure working environments such as nursing. 

It is therefore unsurprising that healthcare is the industry with the most observed gossiping. 

Gossip has long been considered idle and trivial chat but there is also some evolutionary origins theories. 

Research has found that negative and positive gossiping serves seperate functions.  

Typically gossiping in a hospital setting is viewed as a negative with policies and procedures in place to manage it. 

This approach hinders the emerging research that while gossip can be a negative, there is also potential for positivity. 

Gossip has been found to help with emotional expression, and other positive outcomes such as trust between workers. 

Gossip has been described as cathartic and a mechanism of socialisation. 

Despite this, the traditionally held view is that gossip is all negative. 

One of the reasons for this is the damage to relationships and other people’s reputations. 

Some organisations view gossip as a cause of decreased positivity, lessened morale, turnover of employees and hurt feelings. 

Negative gossip can also be viewed as bullying.

While gossip occurs between individuals it has a function in an organisational context when occurring in the workplace. 

Gossip can be an early indication of system dysfunction and failure. It has been suggested that negative gossip occurs with a lack of leadership, low trust and infrequent access to management.  

Unsurprising given the percentage of female staff in healthcare settings the literature supports the gossip culture being stronger with women. 

So what of gossip and organisational culture- what can we learn? 

The positive associations between negative gossip and burnout should be considered as part of an organisations culture. 

Gossip can also be viewed as a potential manifestation of burnout. 

While we cannot draw any conclusions about the cause and effect of these relationships, the results do indicate that gossip and burnout should be viewed as having similar consequences. 

Gossip in these situations can be viewed as maladaptive, however potentially could be formalised to be used as a moderating function in the workplace.

Gossip was also found by this study to be a risk factor in the provision of suboptimal care and therefore compromised patient safety. 

This study also found that when events were reported the incidence of negative gossip were more wide spread and there was a stronger motivation for other colleagues to negatively judge each other.  

It was also found that the higher a person’s position in the hospital hierarchy, the more frequent the gossip was. 

Perhaps reporting of incidents could be protected to attempt to curb this negative outcome of gossiping. 

So could gossip be used to tell us more about an organisation? 

Healthcare organisations could use gossip, positive or negative, to integrate the information into how they function to improve patient outcomes. 

It would be sensible to consider using this information, which is not typically accessible in any other way, to help shape a health care service for the better.  

Of course, the challenge would be working out a usable system of transferring gossip and talk into health polices and procedures that can enhance health care management.

Author: Beth Montano

To learn more about nurses and gossiping:

Georganta, Katerina, Efharis Panagopoulou, and Anthony Montgomery. “Talking behind their backs: Negative gossip and burnout in Hospitals.” Burnout Research 1.2 (2014): 76-81.