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Office Gossip: Is It A Bad Thing?

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It's a familiar problem: gossiping. How much is too much when it comes to talking about coworkers behind their backs?

CBS 2's Susan Carlson reports, gossip definitely created tension at Empower Public Relations in Chicago.

"There were a lot of whispers and murmurs, and you never really knew who was talking about you," said vice president Ashley Gonias.

So CEO Sam Chapman decided to do something. He created a "no gossip zone."

"Everyone has to agree," Chapman said. "So in our company, the people who didn't want to create a no gossip zone were fired the next day, and we started with a group of people who were committed to taking care of each other."

That meant no more negative comments about anyone behind their back. Now, if you have a beef with a coworker you have to say it their face.

"It was a bit of an adjustment being that brutally honest," said Gonias.

"I was curious. I never heard of anything like that before," said senior publicist Lindsay Rafayko.

Chapman says it worked.

"Not only do we not gossip anymore, but when we slip, we clean it up and go face the person we are talking about and that creates a very healthy work environment," Chapman said.

Not only did morale improve, Chapman says it also boosted productivity and company profits. He is promoting those benefits in his book, "The No Gossip Zone."

But not everyone's buying it.

"Asking people to stop gossiping is like asking people to stop breathing," said Frank McAndrew, a psychology professor at Knox College.

McAndrew has been studying the effects of gossip for years. He admits some gossip can be harmful, but says it has more benefits than downsides.

"One of the things that keeps you working hard is you know your reputation is going to suffer because people are going to talk about you if you're a bad worker," he said.

New research by Indiana University and the University of California at Berkeley supports his position. The studies claim that gossip can relieve stress, offer a way to assess your own job performance and help you bond with coworkers.

"If I share gossip with you, that's a sign of trust," said McAndrew.

McAndrew says a no gossip zone can only increase tension in the office, but the tension that once existed at Empower seems to have vanished.

"I love working here," said Gonias.

"I feel like it's more not necessarily coming to work with your colleagues, but it's friends," said Rafayko.

Good or bad, gossip seems to be on the decline in the workplace.

A new survey shows it's down 21 percent from four years ago. Experts attribute the drop to a more competitive job market.

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