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Hello everyone. Janina here, continuing to fill in for Isabel.

Let us turn to the subject of gossip. If you are the “I don’t do gossip” sort, then take note. You could be damaging your career.

“Gossip” generally conjures negative connotations — some revel in it, some hate it. But according to a fascinating book by Dominique J. Darmon, gossip at work is essential. However, if you pride yourself on being the king or queen of office gossip, don’t get too excited either. There is an art to getting it right.

In Have I Got Dirt For You: Using Office Gossip to Your Advantage Darmon lays out a fascinating analysis of how gossip is good if we better understand it, know when and how to dish it out. She also offers examples of when to engage with someone offering “juicy banter”. 

Darmon, a senior lecturer in communications at the Hague University of Applied Sciences, writes that the key to honing gossip is finding what she calls the “gossip sweet spot” — though she cautions that it is a delicate balance, particularly in any organisation where there are people from different countries and cultures.

So how do we use gossip to our advantage at work? From Darmon’s analysis, here are some key insights for both employees and managers, which I found surprising:

  • Be open to gossip

  • Don’t say you never gossip — believe it or not, Darmon reckons that staying clear of gossip is career suicide. Yes, really!

  • It is the “quality” of the gossip, rather than the “quantity” that counts

  • Just accept your employees will gossip, and probably about you.

  • If you think there is too much damaging gossip about the office, there are ways to mitigate it.

However, best to heed Darmon’s warning that by gossiping in the wrong way, employees can destroy the trust of their colleagues.

What is your view of office gossip? Do you think it has improved or worsened in our new hybrid office world? Do you gossip more or less often? Let us know in this week’s poll, and share your thoughts on office gossip with us in the comments below. (Janina Conboye)

The real reasons employees don’t fill out surveys

a tired woman rubs her eyes amidst a colorful background of survey check boxes
© FT montage / Dreamstime / Noun Project

As companies make more of an effort to listen to their staff, they’re sending more surveys. Jeff Jolton, who leads research at employee engagement consultancy Kincentric, says he has seen more frequent employee surveys since the pandemic began in 2020.

However, employees are less likely to meaningfully engage with them — if at all. “Even when surveys were done once a year, people were concerned about survey fatigue,” says Jeff.

In psychology, “survey fatigue” is when people abandon surveys that are too long. But workplaces often use the term differently, to talk about low response rates and the feeling of being bombarded by too many surveys.

“It’s a misnomer,” says Jeff. When we talk about organisational survey fatigue, what we really mean is employees who aren’t seeing the reason for — or the outcome of — the surveys they’re being asked to take.

If you’re struggling to boost response rates to company surveys, it’s tempting to only look at the survey itself. Ken Matos, the global director of people science at employee feedback platform Culture Amp says that yes, you need to keep them short. Statistics show a significant drop-off in response rate after 30 minutes. Ken advises a sweet spot of 10 to 13 minutes and to make sure you’re not asking repetitive or irrelevant questions.

But it doesn’t stop there. Even if a survey is well designed, “people don’t want to dump their feedback into a black hole,” adds Ken. In his experience, it’s almost always the case that companies who claim their workforce suffers from survey fatigue just haven’t done much with the feedback they’ve received from previous surveys.

In addition to not acting on feedback, Jeff says companies hurt their survey’s potential by not having a well-defined strategy and not being transparent. It’s OK if a survey isn’t meant to result in action. If the purpose is simply to ensure the company is on the right track, tell people up front.

For the most successful surveys, start by asking yourself if you really need the survey at all. See what data you already have access to, and consider talking to employees directly to collect feedback. If that’s not realistic at a larger organisation, consider just surveying a sample of employees at a time. Ensure that the purpose is clear. Afterwards, report back on the survey’s outcome, whether at a company-wide meeting or as part of a larger comms strategy.

“Companies make the mistake of just saying ‘we’re doing this,’” says Ken. So if you’re rolling out a new policy based on survey data, it’s important to make that connection explicitly, so that people understand the survey is worth their time. (Sophia Smith)

Listen in: How open should you be about pay?

This week on the Working It podcast, we are rerunning one of our most popular episodes, about pay transparency at work. I talk to Joel Gascoigne, CEO of Buffer, a company where all the salaries are posted online, and to my FT colleague Brooke Masters, who regularly covers big CEO pay packages as part of her work as US investment and industries editor. The pay transparency debate has become even more topical since we first broadcast this episode — it’s often seen as the key to closing gender and ethnicity pay gaps, as this column on transparency (and which mentions Buffer) describes.

Next week we turn to the quiet side, talking about the power of introverts in the workplace. For too long, organisations have rewarded those who talk loudest. But during the pandemic, quieter, more reserved people started to come into their own. What can they teach the rest of us? And how can managers get the best from the introverts on their teams? With author and entrepreneur Morra Aarons-Mele and my FT colleague Kesewa Hennessy. (Isabel Berwick)

Elsewhere in the world of work:

1. Where have all the UK’s self-employed gone? Britain had a growing army of people working for themselves, but the ranks of the self-employed fell sharply when the pandemic hit. One theory is that some of them are simply reclassifying themselves.

Line chart of Number of self-employed people (thousands) showing Self-employment in the UK has dropped sharply since the pandemic

2. Managing age cohorts requires subtlety: We tend to generalise Boomers vs Millennials vs Gen Zers, but not everyone in a particular age group can be approached the same way. Too often, discussions of generational differences ignore that attitudes and life experiences are vast — even among people who are the same age.

3. Business Book of the Year finalists: Whittled down from nearly 600 entries, these 15 titles in the running for Business Book of the Year include histories, polemics, investigations and analyses — and all have a common theme: the challenges facing the global economy.

4. Should I be worried about my terrible handwriting? The practice of using pen and paper is less common now than it was even five years ago. But data show that we remember more when we write by hand. Maybe it’s time to start penning your to-do list again.

5. Only fools work in August: Columnist Pilita Clark expected to work through a slow month while everyone else was on holiday, but found that she was not alone — not by a long shot. Part of the trouble, she writes, is that excellent work goes unnoticed when one’s boss is doing what bosses tend to do in August: lie on the beach.

A word from the Working It community:

Sabbaticals are becoming increasingly popular as more employers offer it as a perk. FT readers shared their thoughts in response to Claer Barrett’s recent Serious Money column on the question of investing in extended leave.

Reader Tench pointed out the academic origin of the term itself:

Sabbatical to write a book — fine, that’s a recognisable sabbatical activity. Sabbatical to travel? That’s basically just a grown up version of a gap year. I’ve no objection, but calling them sabbaticals feels like an abuse of language.

Reader Shearer’s left shares their observation of the types of people who tend to take sabbaticals:

The most ambitious and aggressive or those who are underperforming tend not to take them. Those taking sabbaticals are usually the competent performers who happen to have other things going on in their lives.

Reader fideii reflected on why their former employer ditched their sabbatical programme:

One of my previous employers used to reward senior managers with consistent ‘outstanding’ ratings a three month sabbatical: the only condition that something useful was done. They abandoned it after a couple of years — too many high flyers did indeed discover that there are many things in life more useful than running a large insurance company.

And reader FMSaigon gave a quick cost-benefit analysis of their own early-career sabbatical:

I took a sabbatical to study and intern in China. I missed 20 months of salary, but that seems like a blip when you later progress to higher wages. Is there a direct link to later career progression? Hard to say, but it’s been an extra arrow in the quiver, and certainly opened new paths. Plus, the ideal job can feel rather like a sabbatical when you get there.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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