Viewpoint -- Dealing The Dirt

Dec. 21, 2004
The corporate grapevine provides more than frivolous gossip.

I have two nasty habits. Well, maybe more, but I am going to talk about just two of them. What are they? Gossiping and smoking. I realize that I should have kicked the nicotine habit long ago, and someday I hope to conquer the cancer sticks. As for the dish, I don't think I am ready to give that up just yet either. After all, I am a journalist so it's my job to snoop. Plus, gossiping is how I stay "in the know" at work. The unfortunate thing is that the best place to hear the latest corporate buzz is on a smoke break. I am not using this as an excuse to feed my cigarette cravings; it's just a fact. Another fact is that I am usually one of the first to hear about major news within my company, complete with exact dates and names. My nonsmoking colleagues are left in the dark until I diligently inform them. In fact, they have been known to send me on a break in order to find out what's going on. Do I feel cheap peddling hearsay? Not really. While my information initially is unverified, in the end it has a 99% accuracy rate. Additionally, I see it as a supplement to my company's corporate communications. Don't get me wrong, my company keeps me informed of the latest awards it has won and the various activities my colleagues have participated in, but these dispatches lack the real grit that puts me in the know. Sure I love reading about who got promoted and who had a baby, but what I really long for is the scoop on the inside track -- what makes my bosses tick, who left the company and why. For example, isn't it embarrassing when you call a colleague to invite him or her to lunch only to find out that person hasn't worked for the company in six months? When did that happen? Why wasn't I told? Then it hits, the feeling of betrayal. How could my company keep such an important piece of information from me? What else is it hiding? So, as I see it, gossiping is a way to keep feelings of corporate betrayal at bay. Indeed, according to an article in "Psychology Today," gossip can be good for you. The author of the article interviewed Jack Levin, professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University, Boston. "If you want to know about the kind of insurance coverage your employer offers, look in the company handbook," says Levin. "But if you want to know who to avoid, who the boss loves or loathes, who to go to when you need help, what it really takes to get a promotion or raise, and how much you can safely slack off, you're better off paying attention to the company grapevine." In fact, if it weren't for the company grapevine, I wouldn't be where I am today. While working as an intern at a sister publication, I heard about the job at IndustryWeek. I didn't see the position on the company job board, instead a fellow smoker informed me of the future opening. Although I wasn't allowed to interview for the position before the job was formally announced, I did have the opportunity to better prepare myself for the interview. In this instance, gossiping paid off. However, not all gossip is good. Some gossips aren't concerned about career advancement. They'd rather talk dirt about so-and-so getting her crow's feet removed or what's-his-name leaving his wife to join the circus. While interesting in an "Enquirer" sort of way, this type of gossip should never be repeated, lest you want your credibility to be nullified. Another tip: If you hear your boss is going to receive a pink slip, let human resources deal with it. Aside from the busybody gossip, the grapevine is where it's at. The who, what, when, where, how and why are all answered in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette. Do I suggest that people start smoking in order to be better informed? No. I do, however, suggest finding the place in your company where the rumor-mill spins -- after all, it could mean the difference between a promotion and a pink slip. Traci Purdum is an IW associate editor. She is based in Cleveland.

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