Drivers for workplace gossip: an application of the theory of planned behavior.

Author:Luna, Alfred


Informal communication is widely known and has been suggested to be important for facilitating communication, improving trust, maintaining cohesiveness, and ensuring a sense of personal autonomy (Charles, 2007; Thomas, Zolin, & Hartman, 2009). Although it is often viewed to be less rational than formal communication (Johnson, 1993), informal communication is a natural consequence of human interaction and therefore is an inevitable part of organizational life (Baskin & Aronoff, 1989; Davis, 1953). A typical type of informal communication medium in organizations is gossip, which refers to "informal and evaluative talk in an organization, usually among no more than a few individuals, about another member of that organization who is not present" (Kurland & Pelled, 2000, p. 429). Although gossip might be seen as daily conversations between two individuals, it could damage an organization as it might result in low morale or mistrust (Michelson & Mouly, 2004; Michelson, van Iterson, & Waddington, 2010). Given that gossip has an impact on organizational outcomes, previous studies have discussed the consequences of gossip in organizations. For instance, Rosnow (1977) claimed that gossip serves as a function of providing organizational-relevant information. Kurland and Pelled (2000) claimed that gossip affects organizational culture and organizational learning as it shapes and reshapes organizational members' perceptions. Meanwhile, it has been suggested that the presence of gossip in an organization could result in a climate of mistrust and poor morale (e.g., Baker & Jones, 1996; Burke & Wise, 2003), which in turn could disrupt productivity and damage the organization (van Iterson & Clegg, 2008).

In addition to the analysis of gossip consequences, a number of studies have sought to identify antecedents of gossip. For example, it is argued that gossip reflects the exchange of emotions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes among organizational members (Michelson et al., 2010). Moreover, Suls (1977) claimed that gossip occurs when an individual has a need for attention and promoting self-interest and self-image. Furthermore, it has been found that an individual is likely to gossip when he or she finds him or herself is in conditions of environmental ambiguity (DiFonzo & Bordia, 2007).

Although gossip in organizations has been investigated from various perspectives, little attention has been paid to factors that affect an individual's intention to gossip. Thus, the main purpose of this study is to explain an individual's intention to gossip using Ajzen's (1991) Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) as the theoretical base since it has been shown to be a useful theory in understanding human behavior (e.g., Ferdous, 2010; Fu, Richards, Hughes, & Jones, 2010) and has been used in various research fields such as consumer behavior (e.g., King, Dennis, & Wright, 2008), management information systems (e.g., Harrison, Mykytyn, & Riemenschneider, 1997), health (e.g., Turchik & Gidycz, 2012), public safety (e.g., Parker, Stradling, & Manstead, 1996), leisure activities (e.g., Hyo, 2011), etc. The basic premise of TPB is that an individual's intention to perform a specific behavior is determined by his or her attitude toward performing the behavior, his or her perceived subjective norms related to performing the behavior, and his or her perceived ease or difficulty of performing the behavior. By using TPB to explain an individual's intention to gossip, this study may provide important insight into managing gossip in organizations more effectively. Figure 1 shows our proposed research model and the relationships among constructs.


The remainder of this study is organized as follows. In the second section, we provide a brief review on gossip in organizations followed by a review on TPB. Next, we develop our theoretical arguments and hypotheses for the proposed research model. In the fourth section, we present the procedures of testing the proposed research model empirically. This is followed by the results of our empirical analyses. We then provide a discussion on the implications followed by limitations and future research directions. The final section concludes this study with a brief summary.


Gossip in Organizations

Gossip is one of the most pervasive activities within organizations (Noon & Delbridge, 1993) and yet it could provide potential insight into understanding human behavior within organizations (Michelson & Mouly, 2002). In a similar vein, Kniffin and Wilson (2010) stated that researchers may be able to understand how things work in an organization by examining gossip in the organization as it is an inextricable activity of any given organization.

Because gossip is ubiquitous and has been commonly seen as a socially destructive activity (Grosser, Lopez-Kidwell, & Labianca, 2010), previous research has examined gossip in organizations from two main streams. A first research stream of gossip focuses on individual outcomes. For instance, Herskovits (1937) suggested that gossip serves as a means for an individual to broadcast personal judgments to others. Colson (1953) and Paine (1967) claimed that an individual is able to obtain information and personal gain when engaging in gossip. Based on Colson and Paine's concept, Noon and Delbridge (1993) further argued that gossip involves power-play as gossipers are able to achieve dominance or self-promotion. Similarly, Kurland and Pelled (2000) proposed that an individual is able to attain different types of interpersonal power by engaging in gossip. For example, they posited that an individual is able to obtain reward and expert power by engaging in positive gossip and receive coercive power by engaging in negative gossip.

A second research stream of gossip in organizations emphasizes the impact of gossip on group outcomes. For instance, it has been suggested that groups are able to perpetuate through the process of gossip as it maintains members' morals, values, and beliefs (Gluckman, 1963). Similarly, Elias and Scotson (1965) claimed that gossip maintains and reinforces existing group cohesion. Although gossip often has negative connotations (Gluckman, 1963), it has been found to be beneficial to group functioning in various ways. For example, gossip helps maintain and strengthen interpersonal relationships as the process of gossip often requires high degrees of interpersonal trust and loyalty (Grosser et al., 2010; Noon & Delbridge, 1993). Moreover, gossip serves as a viable communication approach for group members to obtain necessary information that is not available publically (Mills, 2010). Furthermore, gossip provides groups a mechanism for neutralizing the dominance tendencies of those who might attempt to compromise the groups' interests (Boehm, 1999). McAndrew, Bell, and Garcia (2007) supported this view by stating that group norms could be strengthened when group members engage in gossip because social control might be needed in order to share private information.

Although the above two research streams have provided important insight into gossip in organizations, very little attention has been paid to behavioral intention in the context of gossip at the individual level. Specifically, what affects an individual's intention to gossip remains unanswered. Thus, this study intends to identify factors that influence an individual's intention to gossip using Ajzen's (1991) TPB as the theoretical base. In the next section, we provide a brief review on TPB.

The Theory of Planned Behavior

According to TPB, an individual's intention to perform a specific behavior is affected by his or her attitude toward the behavior, his or her subjective norms related to performing the behavior, and his or her perceived ease or difficulty of performing the behavior. As mentioned earlier, TPB has been used in various research fields. For instance, Jimmieson, Peach, and White (2008) utilized TPB to understand employees' intentions to support organizational change and their results showed that attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control were significant predictors of intentions to carry out change-supportive activities. Bulgurcu, Cavusoglu, and Benbasat (2010) investigated the antecedents of employee compliance with the information security policy (ISP) and found that an employee's intention to comply with the ISP was significantly affected by attitude and normative beliefs. Chan, Wu, and Hung (2010) analyzed individuals' intentions to drink and drive and revealed that attitude and perceived behavioral control can be manipulated in order to prevent drunk driving. Ferdous (2010) applied TPB to explain managers' sustainable marketing behavior and discovered that attitude and subjective norms were positively related to managers' intentions to practice sustainable marketing. In their study of software piracy, Liao, Lin, and Liu (2010) applied and modified TPB to capture behavioral intention to use pirated software and demonstrated that attitude and perceived behavioral control contributed significantly to intention to use pirated software.

The brief literature review on TPB suggests that TPB is a viable theory to understand an individual's behavioral intentions. Harrison et al. (1997) confirmed this view by stating that "the theory of planned behavior has been successful in predicting important behaviors in a wide variety of domains" (p. 172). Given gossip is pervasive in organizations and TPB has been applied in various research fields, the focus of this study is on using TPB to explain an individual's intention to gossip. In the next section, our theoretical arguments are presented.


According to Ajzen...

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