Good things happen at work all the time. But should you share the news of your good fortune with your work colleagues? Recent evidence helps us understand the upsides and downsides of sharing good news at work.
Employees routinely experience positive events such as completing a task, being praised by a supervisor, obtaining a favorable customer review, or selling a product. In fact, research shows that workplace positive events are more than twice as common as their negative counterparts.
One natural response to a positive event is to tell others about the good news. People share their good news between 60 and 80 percent of the time, mostly with relationship partners. Sharing good news is beneficial for many reasons, ranging from boosting one’s mood to strengthening relationships. Broadly speaking, social psychology tells us that sharing positive events is mostly beneficial.
Sharing Good News is More Complicated at Work
However, while sharing good news with one’s partner seems straightforward, doing so with coworkers is more complicated. This is because the workplace is characteristically competitive, involving zero-sum situations where one employee’s win is another’s loss. In other words, employees can make their coworkers look bad when they draw attention to their own positive events. One person’s success might imply a loss for their coworkers, which provides a clear motivation not to tell peers about successes.
Against this backdrop, I set out to understand how coworkers react when an employee discloses their personal work-related positive events and published the results of my research in a recent issue of the Academy of Management Journal.
It turns out, disclosures at work are common. In one study, more than 70 percent of participants had been approached by a colleague who shared good news within the last week. In another study, participants said a colleague shared good news with them on roughly half of their workdays.
What were the consequences of sharing good news at work? According to the data, it depends. Sometimes, coworkers felt inspired by others’ good fortune. But often, envy arose.
The Key Factor of Competition
My findings revealed that competition was the key factor that influenced whether sharing good news resulted in positive or negative outcomes. When competition was low, sharing good news was more likely to result in inspiration, which spurred compliments, showing concern, and listening. But among more competitive coworkers, sharing good news was more likely to trigger envy, with subsequent belittling, criticizing, and excluding. This suggests that telling coworkers about positive events functions differently in competitive, rather than cooperative, environments. Thus, disclosing good news at work is a double-edged sword.
Ultimately, employees should first gain a sense of the competitive nature of their work environment before they decide on whether to share. When competition is low, employees should feel free to share their good news because they stand to reap many rewards. But when competition is high, employees are best advised to withhold their good fortune to avoid the harm that would likely ensue.
I imagine after reading this, you will pause the next time you are about to tell your coworkers of your good news. That is smart: You should ask yourself to what extent you and your coworkers are in competition. I hope that reflecting on this new knowledge allows you to reap the benefits that come from sharing your positive events while avoiding the drawbacks.
If it intrigues you to learn about the potency of ordinary daily phenomena such as sharing good news, using the wrong form of communication, or making inappropriate social media posts, consider enrolling in one of our business programs at WT to deepen your knowledge.
Dr. Trevor Watkins
Assistant Professor of Management & Foust Professor of Business