Developmental psychology has long studied this phenomenon: when friends excessively discuss personal problems in an intense, repetitive, and speculative manner (called co-rumination), they experience a significant increase in the quality of their friendship, but also an increase in negative adjustment outcomes (e.g., depression). Recently, researchers have become interested in whether this trend also occurs in the workplace.
THE ROLE OF ABUSIVE SUPERVISION
The researchers (Haggard, Robert, & Rose, 2011) reported in a recent study that women tend to engage in more co-rumination about work problems than men. In an environment with an abusive supervisor, this co-rumination is actually associated with increased negative outcomes (e.g., work-family conflict) for women. The good news is that in the absence of an abusive supervisor, co-rumination is not significantly related to any negative outcomes for women.
Men engage in less co-rumination overall. However, when they do engage in this behavior in an environment with an abusive supervisor, they experience decreased negative outcomes (lower depression, increased job satisfaction). When they engage in this behavior in an environment with low abusive supervision, they experience increased negative outcomes (increased depression, job satisfaction, work-family conflict). Apparently, men who co-ruminate in an environment that has high levels of abusive supervision are actually relatively well-adjusted when compared to other men, but the same outcomes were not reported in situations with low supervisor abuse.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
Discussing workplace problems with a co-worker can be a useful coping strategy for dealing with stress, but it can also be related to increased negative effects, depending on the situation. For organizations, this research provides some insight into situations when it is useful to provide social support to employees.
Haggard, D.L., C. Robert, C., & Rose, A.J. (2011). Co-Rumination in the Workplace: Adjustment Trade-offs for Men and Women Who Engage in Excessive Discussion of Workplace Problems. Journal of Business and Psychology, 26, 27-40.