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Gossip helps keep patients safe and organisations healthy, study claims

Workplace gossip can be a valuable early warning sign of failure in healthcare organisations, a new study claims.
gossip

Workplace gossip can be a valuable early warning sign of failure in healthcare organisations, a new study claims.

Led by University of Westminster head of psychology Kathryn Waddington, the study found that instead of dismissing gossip, listening to and analysing what was said could help healthcare managers predict and prevent failings in their organisation.

Dr Waddington said while some gossip could be toxic, it neednt always be negative, and did not have to be silenced or ignored.

A form of intelligence

Instead, managers should regard gossip as a form of communication and intelligence, asking the following questions to identify any underlying issues or areas of concern:

  • What organisational issues lie beneath the gossip-related incident/event?
  • What is already known about these issues?
  • How do we judge the credibility of the content/source of the gossip?
  • What are the risks and ethical

Workplace gossip can be a valuable early warning sign of failure in healthcare organisations, a new study claims.

Led by University of Westminster head of psychology Kathryn Waddington, the study found that instead of dismissing gossip, listening to and analysing what was said could help healthcare managers predict and prevent failings in their organisation.

Dr Waddington said while some gossip could be ‘toxic’, it needn’t always be negative, and did not have to be silenced or ignored.

A form of intelligence 

Instead, managers should regard gossip as a form of communication and intelligence, asking the following questions to identify any underlying issues or areas of concern:

  • What organisational issues lie beneath the gossip-related incident/event?
  • What is already known about these issues?
  • How do we judge the credibility of the content/source of the gossip?
  • What are the risks and ethical implications of not attending to the gossip?

The study, published in the Journal of Health Organization and Management, looks at gossip in the context of inquiries into hospital failings and abuses of the relationship between healthcare professionals and patients in the UK.

Referring to investigations into neglect and poor care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Waddington said: ‘It is inconceivable and naïve to imagine that such failures and inadequacies would not have been gossiped about by front-line practitioners, patients and their families.

Warning signs ignored

‘Yet, just like the formal complaints and reports of regulatory bodies into poor care, concerns expressed informally as gossip and rumour also failed to make an impact.

‘This picture is replicated widely, where warning signs of failure are discounted and knowledge about problems becomes fragmented in a culture of silence and secrecy.’

The study also includes views from frontline staff on the role of gossip in healthcare organisations.

Triangulation of gossip

One unnamed director of nursing suggested managers should ‘triangulate’ gossip to verify its accuracy.

‘It’s the verification of tittle-tattle versus the embellishment of a story,’ the nurse said.

‘If I hear the same piece of information from different sources, I think it is more likely to be accurate.’


Further information

‘Rethinking gossip and scandal in healthcare organizations’

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