If you haven’t heard of Fishbowl, chances are your colleagues are already using the app – a bizarre combination of LinkedIn and Reddit – to air their workplace grievances, writes Eliza Filby
Jeremy Hunt says that workers ought to be back in the office. It is certainly true that some chief executives say they are losing vital collaboration time, but staff are finding other ways to recreate the water cooler moments, which, let’s be honest, was largely gossip.
No, I’m not talking about Zoom, Teams or Whatsapp, but on Fishbowl. If you haven’t heard of it yet, the chances are your staff or colleagues are already there. Fishbowl is an app dedicated to professional work chat; think reddit meets LinkedIn meets Tattle Life. It’s sold as a helpful advice forum from fellow professionals. Although their tag line is more revealing; “conversations about work just got interesting”. Of course, there is just as much gossip as advice; just as much negative chat as positive encouragement. It’s also global, sector-wide and operates in real time.
In truth, it’s every internal comms manager’s nightmare.
Unlike LinkedIn where you publicly upload your professional CV and share every winning pitch or “amazing event”, Fishbowl is anonymous. The premise is delightfully simple. You enter your work email address, sector and company, and are invited to join any “fishbowls” or create your own. These could be specific to your workplace, industry or even themes; “mummies in consultancy” for example.
Questions range from insider takes on companies to advice on careers and job switching, from interview techniques to comparing shared parental leave policies. So far so sensible. But you will also find some serious office mudslinging, not to mention the odd scandal (an associate bragging about having an affair with an MD with full-on juicy details) as well as standard office bants; from best memes to random threads such as “if consultancy firms were Star Wars characters” (Accenture is R2-D2 and KPMG is Jar Jar Binks in case you were wondering).
In the hybrid age, Fishbowl is also where the future of work is playing out. One accountant posts that she is considering leaving her job due to poor mental health but cannot be bothered to interview for something. The advice from her bowl? Quiet quit until you are ready to find something else.
Another complains about the recent clamping down on working from home: “Honestly, after 3 years of a cozy WFH lifestyle, it’s going to be miserable commuting into work everyday….. Would anyone here be willing to take a pay-cut in exchange for more WFH days?” Another brags about rural living, where they travel into London occasionally but mostly “(just) earn £130k mostly sitting on my arse.”
Like the office itself, Fishbowl seems to be a mix of young guns full of bravado, anxious to get ahead, and jaded mid-careerists questioning the point of it all. Unless you are in the tech bowl that is, which, right now, is the equivalent of delicately hand-blown glass ready to shatter with panic.
The contrast with LinkedIn couldn’t be more profound. One of the reasons LinkedIn is the friendliest social media platform (albeit full of humble brags) is precisely because it isn’t anonymous. If social media brings out the worst in humans, having your professional reputation on the line has proved to be a powerful moderating force.
In reality, Fishbowl has only digitised the conversations that were happening in the office or in the pub pre-pandemic. And gossip aside, it’s also facilitating something that today’s half empty offices are now lacking; casual advice and specific questions answered. It’s no wonder that Gen Z are using it as a critical forum for career tips. Warning for companies though; your juniors could potentially be getting advice from your competitors.
The real danger however is the threat it poses to employee loyalty and trust in their employer. As companies reach out for more internal transparency over pay, conditions and progression, they could find that all these efforts are undermined by brutally honest anonymous online chit chat.
It only takes one scandal to make it on to Fishbowl and there’s nothing that internal comms teams can counter. We all know what social media has done to politics over the last ten years (think of the anger, trolling and conspiracy theories) . Do we really want this digital culture entering our workplaces?
I wouldn’t be surprised if some firms try to limit the use of official work email addresses for the app. But the truth is, white-collar workers are enjoying the freedom – at least until it gets acquired by LinkedIn or the like.