Again, colleague Meier looks like he hasn’t slept half the night, and that colleague Schmitz has been promoted is really one thing: both examples of the typical gossip in the office’s coffee kitchen, the hall radio. But in the corona pandemic, a lot of people work from home and the occasional meeting in the hallway or for lunch fails. “These are dark times for classic industrial radio,” says media scientist Brigitte Weingart from the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK), who deals with gossip and rumors in her research.
Even before or after meetings or conferences, colleagues would no longer have to chat – and everything cannot be compensated for with emails or chat programs, says Weingart. Added to this is the fact that “certainly” there is no such talk as usual, says Tim Hagemann, industrial psychologist from the Diakonie University of Applied Sciences in Bielefeld. “I think that people are worried about having conversations like in the coffee kitchen because they are afraid that someone is reading.” The phone is still most likely to work. The classic floor radio is important. “It is an informal forum to let off steam and get rid of things that are not officially sayable,” says Weingart.
“Man is a social animal”
“Humans are social animals and have the need for gossip,” says occupational psychologist Michael Kastner from the Institute for Industrial Psychology and Occupational Medicine in Herdecke. This is due to the fact that other people are always the most interesting for us humans and “we can also learn something personally from the experiences and fates of others,” says Kastner.
A distinction must be made between the informal exchange between people about everyday things – such as the bus trip to the office or the daughter’s new teacher – and gossip. “Gossip always includes at least three: two who gossip and a third person who is talked about,” explains Weingart.
“Contrary to the bad reputation of gossip, it is a social glue that makes the team grow closer together,” she continues. Gossip – if it does not lead to social exclusion – would fulfill important functions. On the one hand, indiscreet presupposes trust in the interlocutor, and at the same time trust is established between the gossipers.
Hagemann agrees. To a certain extent, gossip is healthy and creates ties between people. As long as it doesn’t end in bullying, a job without informal information transfer is inconceivable and desirable, says Hagemann. Often, sympathy is expressed in talking to each other. Either way: “It’s naive to say that my company doesn’t have that.”
Gossip as a hierarchy adjustment
Scientist Weingart also says that gossiping is important for a healthy corporate culture. It is a kind of hierarchy adjustment, says Weingart – “the weapon of the inferiors, so to speak, who are denied official positions of power”. This also explains the observation that gossip is traditionally often attributed to women: “This has to do with the fact that women have been in roles for a long time in which they had less power.” This function is also very important for office gossip – not to lift bosses out of their armchairs, but as a valve to let off steam or displeasure with their superiors.
How does working from home, mobile working from home that the corona crisis brings for countless people, change this informal exchange? Kastner suspects that people pick up the phone more often than usual to chat with a colleague because one tends to be alone at the desk. “You have more targeted contacts than in the office and there is also more targeted gossiping.” In general, communication behavior changes due to the home office situation.
In the current situation, non-verbal communication is almost completely eliminated – it is also important for people to hear and smell each other, explains Kastner. He believes that continuing to work from home in the Corona crisis has long-term consequences. “Psychological impairments will go up after Corona.” According to Kastner, the cooperation with colleagues will also be different, more teambuilding measures would be necessary.
Hagemann says it’s a matter of time. “If we are honest, we do not know how long it will take.” If this continues for two or three years, more efforts will surely be necessary. The lack of informal exchange in this unusual situation cannot be compensated for. Even if it is difficult – he calls for people to be consciously called for informal exchange. “You need that and you should make it very conscious and chat. This is important, you need trust when you work together in a team. “
In addition to all the missing exchanges, working in the home office also has a more private component, says Weingart: “In many video conferences, for example, children or cats come into the picture or you can see how the colleague lives.” You get something like that in normal Office life not with. This compensates a bit for the discarded floor radio. And last but not least: Because the situation is new for everyone, it is also the number one topic of conversation and brings colleagues together. “In this respect, Corona also has a community-building effect.”