Watkins: The Mixed Blessing of Sharing Good News at Work

Trevor Watkins Feb 24, 2021
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Watkins: The Mixed Blessing of Sharing Good News at Work

Copy by: Dr. Trevor Watkins, assistant professor of management and Foust Professor of Business, 806-651-4025,


Trevor WatkinsGood things happen at work all the time. But should you share the news of your good fortune with your 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, according to a 2010 study in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. 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.

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 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.

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 compliments, showing concern and listening. But among more competitive coworkers, sharing good news was more likely to trigger envy, 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 image after reading this, you will pause the next time you are about to tell your coworker of your good news. That is smart: You should ask yourself to what extent you and your coworker 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.


About the author

Dr. Trevor Watkins joined the Paul and Virginia Engler College of Business in 2019 after earning a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from the University of Washington. He received an MBA degree and a B.S. in human resource management from Utah State University in 2011 and 2008, respectively. Prior to academia, Dr. Watkins spent seven years as a Human Resource Professional in the financial services and manufacturing industries. He lives in Canyon with his wife and children.


About West Texas A&M University

WT is located in Canyon, Texas, on a 342-acre residential campus. Established in 1910, the University has been part of The Texas A&M University System since 1990. With enrollment of more than 10,000, WT offers 60 undergraduate degree programs, 40 master’s degrees and two doctoral degrees. The University is also home to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in the state and the home of one of the Southwest’s finest art collections. The Buffaloes are a member of the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference and offers 15 men’s and women’s athletics programs.