As we start to return to our offices, this can only mean one thing: water-cooler gossip is back.
Whether intentional or not, gossiping is an intrinsic part of office culture – it helps us bond with our coworkers and offers an outlet to vent.
While few would condone malicious gossip, a little harmless secret-sharing never hurt anyone - and it can actually be good for you as well.
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In fact, a 2019 study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that the 467 participants it surveyed spent an average of 52 minutes per day gossiping. Of that time, 75% of the gossiping was neutral and non-harmful.
Only 15% of the conversations analysed were deemed to be negative and 9% were thought to be positive.
“Gossiping can create happiness when used to create bonds – research shows pleasure reactions in the brain as social connections are being made,” Counselling Directory member, Farah Naz tells Yahoo UK.
“Heart rates increase when we hear malicious gossip but when people actively gossip, it soothes, calms and brings heart rates down.”
Gossiping, Naz says, is a natural way to convey social information.
“People gossip to convey social norms, for example when someone says ´he drank too much at the party and made a fool of himself´ the message is don’t drink too much and make a fool of yourself,” she explains.
“Also, gossip is a means of social control - it can result in ostracisation, or be used positively to create social connection and intimacy.”
Some of the positive benefits that harmless gossip has include pointing out unacceptable behaviours and lowering stress levels.
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However, it’s important to know the difference between harmless and harmful gossip.
“Harmful gossip is malicious, personally attacking, potentially damaging to someone's reputation and often not based on fact,” Naz explains. “Harmless gossip is simply passing on news.”
When it comes to gossiping in the workplace, Naz warns that it can “erode trust and morale”.
“Equally, workplace gossip can create bonds,” she adds. “Between friends, it can create greater bonds as people are bound together, gossiping.”
For those who don’t want to get involved in gossip and office politics as they return to work, psychotherapist Kirsty Taylor recommends aligning yourself with colleagues who distance themselves from these issues.
“Ensure you have people who you connect with and can go to lunch with to avoid getting involved in difficult lunchtime chat.
"It’s important to try not to add fuel to the fire by retaliating when someone has an unfavourable opinion or any undermining tactics take place,” she explains.
“It can be useful to have a chat in a private space with a colleague if you feel unhappy about what is being said, ensuring you are clear about how it is making you feel, rather than attacking them for their opinions.”
The key is to take note of how you’re gossiping. Is it positive or neutral? Head on over to the water cooler. If it could potentially hurt others, leave it at your desk.
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