Editorial

Staff gossip could highlight urgent concerns

Impromptu conversations at the water cooler can be a useful barometer of morale
Graham Scott

Gossip helps keep patients safe and organisations healthy, study claims was the headline in our most popular online story of the past week. Perhaps its no surprise that an item on gossiping got our readers talking.

Opportunities to chat at the nurses station, in the staff room or while making a cup of tea are rare, given the pressure on everyones time. But these informal conversations in the workplace are invaluable because they allow staff to share experiences, reflect on events and discuss solutions to the problems they face.

From a managerial perspective, the tone of such impromptu conversations can be a useful barometer of morale, while the subjects spoken about will reveal the issues that are really getting staff going.

Our story was based on a study led by Kathryn Waddington, a psychologist, who says managers should regard gossip as a form of communication and intelligence.

‘Gossip helps keep patients safe and organisations healthy, study claims’ was the headline in our most popular online story of the past week. Perhaps it’s no surprise that an item on gossiping got our readers talking.

Opportunities to chat at the nurses’ station, in the staff room or while making a cup of tea are rare, given the pressure on everyone’s time. But these informal conversations in the workplace are invaluable because they allow staff to share experiences, reflect on events and discuss solutions to the problems they face.

From a managerial perspective, the tone of such impromptu conversations can be a useful barometer of morale, while the subjects spoken about will reveal the issues that are really getting staff going.

Our story was based on a study led by Kathryn Waddington, a psychologist, who says managers should regard gossip as a form of communication and intelligence.

She acknowledges that the content may not always be accurate, and that the source may be motivated by malice. However, she emphasises that ignoring what is being said carries its own risks.

As Ms Waddington points out, it is inconceivable that the troubles that afflicted Stafford Hospital a decade ago were not being discussed by staff at the trust’s water coolers for many months before they became public knowledge.

If managers had been keeping their ear to the ground they would have heard what was being discussed and, if they were doing their jobs properly, realised rather sooner that significant issues needed to be addressed.

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