Gossiping at work may make you more productive

Washington: Keeping a secret is akin to carrying a physical weight and it can diminish motivation, making people less productive at work, a new study has found. 

“The more you feel preoccupied by a secret and are thinking about it, the more you are using your personal resources – cognitive and motivational – the less energy you feel you have available to pursue other tasks,” said Michael Slepian, lead author of the study and a researcher at Columbia Business School. 

“You see things around you as more challenging. It’s the same outcome as when you are carrying a heavy burden,” he said. 

In our personal lives, this dynamic can lead us to withdraw from people, activities, and relationships. In the workplace, it can result in decreased productivity and engagement. 

 “Being preoccupied by a secret at work can be demotivating. And we know if you are less motivated, you perform less well,” Slepian said. 

 In a series of studies, Slepian, along with co-researchers Nicholas Camp of Stanford University and EJ Masicampo of Wake Forest University, asked participants to think of either a ‘preoccupying’ secret or a ‘non-preoccupying’ secret and then to judge the steepness of a hill. Individuals’ perception of ‘hill slant’, as this test is known, has been shown to vary depending on whether subjects are carrying additional weight. 

The results were consistent: those participants who were asked to recall a preoccupying secret judged the hill to be steeper, and therefore more forbidding, just as if they were lugging a heavy load.  For workers pinned down under the weight of their secrets, the best solution is simply to get them off their chests, Slepian said. 

“Sometimes people feel like the right thing to do is to keep the secret. But by doing that, you may set yourself up for negative consequences,” he said. 


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