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The new age of workplace gossip – TMI!


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I’ve discussed workplace gossip here before, and what bosses can do to prevent it or at least reduce the potential harm, but there are a couple of hyper-modern developments that I didn’t get into: reality television and the Internet. These two things have created a culture of “sharing”, for lack of a better word, that encourages people at play or work to divulge the most mundane and private details of their lives to others—the kind of information that one previously might only have shared with family or best friends.

The Internet—particularly social media—also encourages sharing private information about others that might best be kept to oneself, possibly because of the presumption of anonymity and privacy that comes with gossiping from behind a screen.

It should be clear that any gossip can be harmful to a workplace. See my previous posts for that argument. But excessive personal sharing—gossiping about oneself—is an interesting development. This can cause reactions mild or non-reactions in the receiver of the personal tidbits, but it can also cause shock, disgust and offence. In the Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Bernstein lists many such examples of oversharing—what she calls the “Too Much Information phenomenon” at work. She also discusses briefly how to discourage oversharing:

“Whatever you do, do not reward the oversharing behaviour. Don’t listen. Don’t laugh, even out of nervousness. Change the subject. Try my late grandmother’s line: When she was stuck listening to something she deemed overly personal, she put a hand on the speaker’s shoulder and said, ‘I’m sorry, that is just too sad to talk about.'”

I wonder how many people do this these days without even realizing it: as if a story about passing out drunk at a nightclub were on the same level as getting a passport photo! Is there an oversharer at your workplace? Are you that person who doesn’t know where to draw the line? What’s your strategy to stop the information before it becomes too much?

Adam Gorley
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Assistant Editor

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Adam Gorley

Adam Gorley is a copywriter, editor and researcher at First Reference. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks, Inside Internal Controls and other First Reference publications. He writes about general HR issues, accessibility, privacy, technology in the workplace, accommodation, violence and harassment, internal controls and more. Read more
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