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Gossip fiercer than a tiger: Effect of workplace negative gossip on targeted employees' innovative behavior.

Workplace gossip is defined as informal and evaluative talk in an organization, usually among no more than a few individuals, and about another organizational member who is not present (Kurland & Pelled, 2000). With some exceptions (e.g., Ellwardt, Labianca, & Wittek, 2012), researchers have mainly focused on exploring the functional value of gossip for organizations, groups, and gossipers (e.g., Baumeister, Zhang, & Vohs, 2004; Kniffin & Wilson, 2010; Kurland & Pelled, 2000; Michelson & Mouly, 2004). However, although gossip may benefit organizations, groups, and gossipers, its effect on the target employee is negative in most cases (Chandra & Robinson, 2009).

Negative workplace gossip is a form of violence that is essentially a form of attack that empowers one person while disempowering another (Ellwardt et al., 2012; Grosser, Lopez-Kidwell, Labianca, & Ellwardt, 2012). Therefore, in this study we addressed a research inadequacy to facilitate understanding about the potential costs and harm of workplace gossip for the target employee. We defined workplace gossip as organizational members discussing personal information or spreading rumors about a third party. Drawing on Chandra and Robinson's (2009) work, we investigated gossip from the target employee's point of view and perception of negative workplace gossip (NWG).

Specifically, we examined the potential detrimental effect of NWG on target employees' innovative behavior in the workplace. Innovative behavior involves not only the generation of new ideas but also their dissemination and implementation (Janssen, 2000). We chose employees' innovative behavior as the outcome variable because innovation plays an increasingly important role in organizational viability and success, and employees' innovative behavior is highly valued and emphasized in enterprises (Ng & Lucianetti, 2016). In addition, as NWG is a ubiquitous phenomenon in organizations (Chandra & Robinson, 2009), it may be a salient influence on the context in which employees' innovative behavior occurs. Previous researchers have found that workplace ostracism can significantly affect creativity (Kwan, Mao, Liu, Lee, & Hui, 2012). Therefore, we proposed that NGW, as a negative event, would also affect employees' innovative behavior.

One potential way that NWG impacts targeted employees' innovative behavior is by influencing their organization-based self-esteem (OBSE), which reflects the self-perceived value that individual employees have of themselves as organizational members acting in an organizational context (Pierce, Gardner, Cummings, & Dunham, 1989), namely, their sense of personal adequacy as organizational members, and of previously having satisfied the needs of their organizational roles (Pierce et al., 1989). As employees' OBSE is affected by their organizational experience (e.g., NWG), when their OBSE has been shaped, employees tend to increase or decrease corresponding organization-related attitudes and behavior for self-verification (Swann, 2012). High-OBSE (vs. low-OBSE) employees are more likely to exhibit positive attitudes and behavior (Bowling, Eschleman, Wang, Kirkendall, & Alarcon, 2010).

In addition, we introduced creative self-efficacy to explore the boundary condition of the link between OBSE and innovative behavior. Creative self-efficacy refers to individuals' belief that they have the knowledge and skills to produce creative outcomes (Richter, Hirst, van Knippenberg, & Baer, 2012; Tierney & Farmer, 2011). Individuals with high creative self-efficacy have high confidence in their ability to engage in challenging creative activities, and strong intrinsic motivation for creative activities (Huang, Krasikova, & Liu, 2016; Richter et al., 2012). Ferris, Lian, Brown, and Morrison (2015) found that employees with low self-esteem do not necessarily verify their self-perceptions, but may engage in self-enhancement behavior. Kwang and Swann (2010) found that self-verification is a major human motivation that maintains and verifies a person's self-view through behavior consistent with self-perception.

Self-enhancement represents the desire to view oneself and to be viewed by others positively (Ferris et al., 2015). The self-enhancement perspective is different from the self-verification perspective in that it indicates that individuals who evaluate themselves negatively do not seek to verify this negative self-evaluation, but endeavor to positively demonstrate themselves (Sedikides, 1983). We positioned creative self-efficacy as an important contingent variable in determining whether low-OBSE employees would self-verify or self-enhance. Employees with different levels of creative self-efficacy may differ in their willingness to engage proactively with creative challenges and/or to persist in attempts to overcome these challenges (Huang et al., 2016; Richter et al., 2012; Tierney & Farmer, 2011). Thus, the question arises as to whether employees with different levels of creative self-efficacy respond to low OBSE caused by NWG by self-verifying or self-enhancing. We therefore proposed two research questions:

(a) Does negative workplace gossip impede targeted employees' innovative behavior? If it does, what is the influencing mechanism between negative workplace gossip and employees' innovative behavior?

(b) When is negative workplace gossip more likely to impede targeted employees' innovative behavior?

Literature Review and Hypothesis Development

Negative Workplace Gossip and Employees' Innovative Behavior

In this study we proposed that NWG would exert a detrimental influence on the innovative behavior of targeted employees, because, from a self-evaluation perspective, these employees tend to integrate a negative external evaluation and then form a negative self-evaluation. This exerts a negative influence on their creativity (Fleith, Renzulli, & Westberg, 2002), which is a crucial component of innovative behavior (Ng & Lucianetti, 2016). As NWG originates from, and is disseminated by, their coworkers and/or supervisors, targeted employees may feel that they have a low level of coworker and/or supervisor support. As they would not have a sense of psychological safety (Carmeli & Gittell, 2009), they would be less likely to take interpersonal risks to outperform in the risk-taking domain of creativity and innovation (Carmeli, Reiter-Palmon, & Ziv, 2010; Kark & Carmeli, 2009). In addition, in an organization where NWG is rife, people tend to distrust each other, and employees may experience psychological and physiological symptoms, such as emotional distress and depression (Chandra & Robinson, 2009). To conserve their psychological resources, employees tend to withdraw psychologically from workplace affairs, which may further undermine their performance (Bakker, Demerouti, & Verbeke, 2004). Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: Negative workplace gossip will have a negative impact on targeted employees' innovative behavior.

Mediating Effect of Organization-Based Self-Esteem

We proposed that OBSE would mediate the relationship between NWG and employees' innovative behavior, because, from a self-evaluation perspective (Gecas, 1982), NWG can negatively affect employees' OBSE. As individuals often tend to integrate social evaluation by others into their own self-evaluation (Fleith et al., 2002), negative social evaluation by others in the workplace context is likely to reduce employees' OBSE (Bowling et al., 2010). Further, according to self-verification theory, low OBSE may hamper employees' innovative behavior, because they endeavor to maintain the consistency of their self-cognition with attitudes and behavior for self-verification (Korman, 1970). In other words, employees with high OBSE try to verify their positive organization-based self-evaluation by their positive work attitudes and behavior. In contrast, employees with low OBSE tend to verify their negative organization-based self-evaluation by negative work attitudes and behavior (Bowling et al., 2010), which may include reducing innovative behavior. Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 2: Organization-based self-esteem will mediate the relationship between negative workplace gossip and targeted employees' innovative behavior.

Moderating Effect of Creative Self-Efficacy

Individuals with low self-esteem have a self-enhancement motivation as well as a self-verification motivation (Ferris et al., 2015). Therefore, we adopted a contingency perspective in our exploration of the relationship between OBSE and employees' innovative behavior. Employees with high creative self-efficacy (vs. other employees) have a stronger motivation to engage proactively with creative challenges (Richter et al., 2012); for example, in a situation of low OBSE caused by NWG, high creative self-efficacy weakens the negative effect of NWG on OBSE. Therefore, the relationship between OBSE and employees' innovative behavior may be relatively weak for employees with high creative self-efficacy, because they have strong confidence and intrinsic motivation in the field of creativity and may, regardless of their OBSE level, persist in creative activities. However, as employees with low creative self-efficacy lack strong intrinsic motivation, self-confidence, and persistence in the creative field, they may verify their negative self-evaluation and thus reduce their innovative behavior in creative activities.

Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 3: Employees' creative self-efficacy will moderate the relationship between organization-based self-esteem and targeted employees' innovative behavior, such that the relationship will be stronger when employees' creative self-efficacy is lower.

We further proposed a moderated mediation model in the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 4: Employees' creative self-efficacy will moderate the mediating role of organization-based self-esteem between negative workplace gossip and targeted employees' innovative behavior, such that the indirect effect will be stronger when employees' creative self-efficacy is lower.

Method

Participants and Procedure

We conducted our survey with employees of 19 information technology companies in China. After the permission of the companies' directors had been acquired, the personnel directors helped to contact respondents. We conducted two rounds of data collection with a 2-month interval, to reduce the possibility of common method bias (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, & Podsakoff, 2012). In Round 1, employees reported their demographic information and their perceived NWG. We distributed 350 employee surveys and collected 312 (89.14%). In Round 2, the 312 employees were surveyed again and they rated their OBSE, creative self-efficacy, and innovative behavior. Finally, 296 valid survey forms were returned (94.87%). Of the 296 respondents, 54% were men, they were aged from 23 to 49 years with an average age of 32.33 years (SD = 5.92), and their organizational tenure ranged from 1 to 11 years, with an average of 3.80 years (SD = 1.14). In terms of level of seniority in the position held in the organization, 50% were employees, 34.5% were first-line managers, and 15.5% were middle managers.

Measures

We administered the survey in Chinese, following the translation back-translation procedure (Brislin, 1970). The original scales were translated from English into Chinese by a professor from the Department of Business Administration, Tsinghua University, after which the back-translation procedure was conducted by a postdoctoral researcher in this field, from Peking University. Unless otherwise stated, items in the measures were rated by participants on a 7-point Likert type scale, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).

Negative workplace gossip. We assessed negative workplace gossip using Chandra and Robinson's (2009) scale with three items, which participants rated on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (daily). The items are ''In the past six months, others communicated damaging information about me in the workplace," "In the past six months, others spread rumors about me in the workplace,'' and "In the past six months, others made negative allegations about me in the workplace" (Wu, Birtch, Chiang, & Zhang, 2018; [alpha] = .94).

Employees' innovative behavior. Employees' innovative behavior was assessed with Scott and Bruce's (1994) six-item scale. A sample item is "I search out new technologies, processes, techniques, and/or product ideas" ([alpha] = .94).

Organization-based self-esteem. Organization-based self-esteem was measured with Pierce et al.'s (1989) 10-item scale. A sample item is "I am taken seriously around here" ([alpha] = .89).

Creative self-efficacy. Creative self-efficacy was measured with Tierney and Farmer's (2002) four-item scale. A sample item is "I have confidence in my ability to solve problems creatively" ([alpha] = .89).

Control variables. We controlled employees' age, gender, education, organizational tenure, and organizational level (Brimeyer, Perrucci, & Wadsworth, 2010).

Data Analysis

We first conducted a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) with LISREL 8.8. We then obtained descriptive statistics of the data with SPSS 19.0. To test the hypotheses, we performed hierarchical regression modeling. We drew on Baron and Kenny's (1986) work to test the mediating effect, and then applied the Sobel test and PRODCLIN program (MacKinnon, Fritz, Williams, & Lockwood, 2007) to provide support for the mediating effect. Next, we constructed an interactive term (OBSE*creative self-efficacy) and added it into the regression to test the moderating effect. We followed Aiken, West, and Reno's (1991) procedure to conduct and chart a simple slope test. Finally, we applied the moderated path analysis approach to test the moderated mediation model.

Results

Confirmatory Factor Analysis

The hypothesized four-factor model fit the data better than the three-factor, two-factor, and one-factor models, indicating support for the distinctness of the variables (see Table 1).

Descriptive Statistics

NWG was negatively correlated with both employees' innovative behavior and OBSE, and OBSE was positively related to employees' innovative behavior (see Table 2).

Hypothesis Testing

After we had controlled the demographic variables, we found that NWG was negatively related with employees' innovative behavior (see Table 3). Thus, Hypothesis 1 was supported.

As shown in Table 3, first, in Model 6, after we had controlled the demographic variables, there was a negative correlation between NWG and OBSE. Next, in Model 3, after we had entered OBSE, the relationship between NWG and employees' innovative behavior became nonsignificant. We found initial support for the mediating effect (Baron & Kenny, 1986), and the Sobel test result showed that the size of the mediating effect was significant (z = -2.51, p < .05). The results of PRODCLIN revealed that the indirect effect was significant according to a confidence interval (CI), as it did not contain zero, 95% CI [0.09, 0.32]. Thus, Hypothesis 2 was supported.

In Hypothesis 3 we proposed that employees' creative self-efficacy would weaken the relationship between OBSE and employees' innovative behavior. In Model 4 (see Table 3), the interactive effect was significant. As shown in Figure 1 (Aiken & West, 1991), for employees with low creative self-efficacy, OBSE had a stronger positive relationship with employees' innovative behavior (b = .28, p < .01), whereas for employees with high creative self-efficacy, the correlation of OBSE with employees' innovative behavior was nonsignificant (b = .10, ns). Thus, Hypothesis 3 was supported.

The results shown in Table 4 indicate that creative self-efficacy had a significant moderating effect in the second stage rather than in the first stage. The indirect effect of NWG on employees' innovative behavior was not significantly moderated by OBSE. Thus, Hypothesis 4 was not supported.

Discussion

Almost everyone in the workplace creates, spreads, and listens to gossip. Previous researchers have conducted valuable exploration on workplace gossip (Kim, Moon, & Shin, 2019), and it is widely accepted that gossip plays an important role in promoting informal relationships among employees (Dunbar, 2004; Kniffin & Wilson, 2005). Our results showed that NWG had a negative influence on targeted employees' innovative behavior, that OBSE mediated the relationship between NWG and employees' innovative behavior, and that employees' creative self-efficacy weakened the positive relationship between OBSE and employees' innovative behavior.

Theoretical Implications

Our findings advance knowledge on the consequences of NWG. From the self-evaluation and self-verification perspectives, we found that NWG had a deleterious effect on targeted employee participants' innovative behavior. Our findings also enrich the literature on employees' innovative behavior by identifying a previously unidentified antecedent. In addition, our results that suggest that the detrimental effect of NWG occurred by lowering employees' OBSE, help uncover a mechanism linking NWG and employees' innovative behavior.

Moreover, by examining and finding support for the moderating role of creative self-efficacy, we have integrated the self-verification perspective (Korman, 1970; Swann, 2012) with the self-enhancement perspective (Hideg & Ferris, 2014; Sedikides, 1993). Our findings on the contingent role of employees' creative self-efficacy help delineate when targeted employees with low OBSE self-verify to reduce their innovative behavior, and when they self-enhance and prevent innovative behavior from being affected by low OBSE, therefore contributing to the integration of the two theoretical perspectives. This is because the mediating role of OBSE is explained by the self-verification perspective, and the self-enhancement perspective illustrates the moderating role of self-efficacy. Thus, the moderated mediation model was well explained from these two perspectives.

Practical Implications

First, as we found support for the detrimental effect of NWG on employees' innovative behavior, organizational managers should develop efficient strategies to reduce NWG. Because previous researchers have found that workplace gossip is influenced by social and group norms (Michelson, van Iterson, & Waddington, 2010), organizations should build effective information exchange channels, and standardize group behavior to reduce the spread of NWG. Second, our finding that creative self-efficacy played a critical role in buffering the negative influence of low OBSE on employees' innovative behavior, suggests that organizational managers should select people with high creative self-efficacy as employees, and should take measures to enhance incumbent employees' creative self-efficacy.

Limitations and Directions for Future Research

There are several limitations in this study. First, data were obtained from only one source. Despite CFA results indicating support for the distinctness of the variables, the possibility of potential common method bias is still a concern. Second, although we explored the relationship between NWG and employees' innovative behavior from the self-evaluation perspective, there may be other potential mechanisms. Three, as our sample was restricted to employees in the information technology industry, the generalizability of our findings to other industries may be limited to some degree. Future researchers can avoid these limitations by using multiple data sources, multienterprise samples, and multiple evaluation perspectives. Four, as we collected all data in Mainland China, there is no guarantee that our results will be valid in other cultural contexts. Future researchers should conduct studies with participants from different cultural backgrounds, and they can also enrich the outcome variables of NWG with other variables, such as work engagement.

Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (2017RC09). Aiqin Zhou and Yi Liu contributed equally to this research as co-first authors.

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Aiqin Zhou (1), Yi Liu (2), Xin Su (3), Haoying Xu (4)

(1) School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua University, People's Republic of China

(2) Zhengzhou Ethnic Affairs Committee, People's Republic of China

(3) School of Economics and Management, Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, People's Republic of China

(4) School of Business, Central University of Finance and Economics, People's Republic of China

How to cite: Zhou, A., Liu, Y., Su, X., & Xu, H. (2019). Gossip fiercer than a tiger: Effect of workplace negative gossip on targeted employees' innovative behavior. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 47(5), e5727

CORRESPONDENCE Xin Su, Jingguan Building, Room 113, No. 10 Xitucheng Road, Haidian, Beijing 100876, People's Republic of China. Email: xin.su@bupt.edu.cn

https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.5727
Table 1. Model Fit Results for Confirmatory Factor Analysis

Model                 [chi square]  df   CFI  TLI  IFI  SRMR

5-factor model (a)      1287.80     201  .93  .92  .93  .07
4-factor model (b)      1634.82     224  .91  .90  .91  .08
3-factor model (c)      2124.60     227  .85  .84  .85  .10
2-factor model (d)      2984.23     229  .81  .79  .81  .13
One-factor model (6)    3190.32     230  .78  .76  .78  .14

Note. N = 296. (a) five-factor model: NWG, OBSE, creative
self-efficacy, employees' innovative behavior, common method variance
factor; (b) four-factor model: NWG, OBSE, creative self-efficacy,
employees' innovative behavior; (c) three-factor model: combination of
NWG, OBSE, and creative self-efficacy; (d) two-factor model:
combination of OBSE and creative self-efficacy; (e) one-factor model:
combination of all variables. NWG = negative workplace gossip, OBSE =
organization-based self-esteem, CFI = comparative fit index, TLI =
Tucker--Lewis index, IFI = incremental fit index, SRMR = standardized
root mean square residual.

Table 2. Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations Among Study
Variables

                                     M     SD       1          2

1. Gender                           0.46  0.50
2. Age                             32.33  5.92  -.09
3. Education                        2.45  0.67  -.07        .19 (**)
4. Organizational tenure            3.80  1.14  -.08        .82 (**)
5. Organizational level             1.66  0.73  -.08        .59 (**)
6. Negative workplace gossip        2.77  1.04   .02       -.13 (*)
7. Organization-based self-esteem   5.51  0.60  -.23 (**)   .20 (**)
8. Creative self-efficacy           5.48  0.86  -.11        .16 (**)
9. Employees' innovative behavior   5.41  0.80  -.31 (**)   .21 (**)

                                       3          4          5

1. Gender
2. Age
3. Education
4. Organizational tenure            .19 (**)
5. Organizational level             .55 (**)   .62 (**)
6. Negative workplace gossip       -.20 (**)  -.15 (*)   -.15 (*)
7. Organization-based self-esteem   .43 (**)   .46 (**)   .49 (**)
8. Creative self-efficacy           .34 (**)   .22 (**)   .30 (**)
9. Employees' innovative behavior   .35 (**)   .27 (**)   .31 (**)

                                       6         7         8

1. Gender
2. Age
3. Education
4. Organizational tenure
5. Organizational level
6. Negative workplace gossip
7. Organization-based self-esteem  -.23 (**)
8. Creative self-efficacy          -.22 (**)  .52 (**)
9. Employees' innovative behavior  -.23 (**)  .55 (**)  .80 (**)

Note. N = 296.
(*) p < .05, (**) p < .01.

Table 3. Results of Regression Analysis

                                   Employees' innovative behavior
                                    M1          M2          M3

Control variables
 Gender                          -.45 (**)   -.45 (**)   -.30 (**)
 Age                             -.10        -.10         .21 (*)
 Education                        .34 (**)    .31 (**)    .17 (*)
 Organizational tenure            .18 (**)    .17 (*)    -.11
 Organizational level             .02         .03        -.05
Independent variable
 Negative workplace gossip                   -.12 (**)   -.07
Mediator
 OBSE                                                     .66 (**)
Moderator
 Creative self-efficacy
Interaction term
 OBSE x Creative self-efficacy
[R.sup.2]                         .25         .26         .38
[DELTA][R.sup.2]                              .01 (**)    .12 (**)
F                               18.79 (**)  17.23 (**)  25.51 (**)

                                Employees' innovative behavior
                                               M4

Control variables
 Gender                                     -.29 (**)
 Age                                         .06
 Education                                   .03
 Organizational tenure                      -.01
 Organizational level                       -.03
Independent variable
 Negative workplace gossip                  -.03
Mediator
 OBSE                                        .19 (**)
Moderator
 Creative self-efficacy                      .63 (**)
Interaction term
 OBSE x Creative self-efficacy              -.11 (*)
[R.sup.2]                                    .72
[DELTA][R.sup.2]                             .34 (**)
F                                          81.36 (**)

                                         OBSE
                                    M5          M6

Control variables
 Gender                          -.22 (**)   -.22 (**)
 Age                             -.47 (**)   -.47 (**)
 Education                        .24 (**)    .22 (**)
 Organizational tenure            .43 (**)    .42 (**)
 Organizational level             .11 (**)    .11 (**)
Independent variable
 Negative workplace gossip                   -.07 (**)
Mediator
 OBSE
Moderator
 Creative self-efficacy
Interaction term
 OBSE x Creative self-efficacy
[R.sup.2]                         .51         .52
[DELTA][R.sup.2]                              .01 (**)
F                               52.88 (**)  52.07 (**)

Note. N = 296. OBSE = organization-based self-esteem. M = model.
(*) p < .05, (**) p < .01.

Table 4. Results of the Moderated Path Analysis

                                         Negative workplace gossip
                                     [right arrow] OBSE [right arrow]
                                      Employees' innovative b ehavior
        Moderator variable:
      Creative self-efficacy                 Stage          Effect
                                       Stage 1   Stage 2    Direct

Low creative self-efficacy (-1 SD)      -.01     .23 (**)  -.10 (*)
High creative self-efficacy (+1 SD)     -.04     .18 (**)  -.03
Difference between high and low         -.03    -.05 (*)    .07 (*)

                                         Negative workplace gossip
                                     [right arrow] OBSE [right arrow]
                                      Employees' innovative b ehavior
        Moderator variable:
      Creative self-efficacy                       Effect
                                              Indirect   Total

Low creative self-efficacy (-1 SD)                0     -.10 (*)
High creative self-efficacy (+1 SD)              -.01   -.04
Difference between high and low                  -.01    .06 (*)

Note. N = 296. OBSE = organization-based self-esteem.
(*) p < .05, (**) p < .01.
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Article Details
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Author:Zhou, Aiqin; Liu, Yi; Su, Xin; Xu, Haoying
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Date:May 1, 2019
Words:4872
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