Office gossip going viral – email the top tool

OFFICE gossip might be rife at the water cooler but emails have emerged as the best forum for workers to spread scuttlebutt.

A study of 600,000 emails by the Georgia Institute of Technology has found one out of every seven emails is office gossip and that those emails are 2.7 times more likely to be negative rather than positive.

Workers at the lowest rung of the company hierarchy play the biggest role in circulating gossip throughout organisations and are known as “gossip sources”.

“Gossip sinks”, who take a lot in but don’t give away too much information, are most likely to be at the top of the pecking order or one level below.

Psychologist and author of How to Deal With Master Manipulators, Dr Mary Casey, said gossip is “rife” in all workplaces but an overload of malicious talk can be corrosive to companies and individuals.

“Too much gossip can be a bad thing and mean people haven’t got enough to do,” she said.

“Excessive gossip can result in high staff turnover, sick leave, stress leave increases and people who don’t buy into that gossip being ostracised.”

Dr Casey, based in Casula, added if company leaders are the gossip mongers “you’ve got Buckley’s chance of controlling the lower levels of the hierarchy”.

The analysis, from former energy company Enron, is the world’s largest publicly accessible body of naturally occurring emails and was taken between 1997 and 2001. The results were published this year.

Georgia Tech Assistant Professor Eric Gilbert, the author of the study, said he was surprised that almost 15 per cent of emails are gossip.

“But then again, gossip is something we all do in every aspect of our lives,” he said.

“I imagine corporate executives will probably take note of this and then send an email to Jennifer down the hall saying that Bob in purchasing gossips all the time.”

He added that despite gossip’s negative connotations, it also plays an important social function of binding small groups of people together. The average worker spends around 28 per cent of their time, reading, writing or responding to emails and only 39 per cent of the remaining time on role-specific tasks, according to a recent McKinsey and Company report.