Email gossip: the grease in the wheels of office politics

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While face-to-face gossip by the water cooler, in the bathrooms, or on the coffee run, is not going anywhere anytime soon, gossip-laden emails continue to be the method of choice for most office workers.

A suspiciously high sample size of emails were studied by the Georgia Institute of Technology, (some 600,000!), and it was found that a whopping 1 in 7 emails is office gossip. The study was done by looking at the hundreds of thousands of emails sent from, and within, the bankrupted American energy firm Enron, where the average worker sent 112 emails per day.

The study found that:


  • Of those 112 emails, some 15% were written about other people, and negative comments outweighed positive comments by almost 3:1.
  • While those ranked towards the bottom of the pay scale gossiped more than average, gossiping emails were consistently found in all ranks of the company.

However, according to the lead researcher, workplace gossip isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “When you say 'gossip,' most people immediately have a negative interpretation, but it's actually a very important form of communication,” assistant professor Eric Gilbert said. “Gossip is generally how we know what we know about each other, and for this study we viewed it simply as a means to share social information.”

Notably, Gilbert also commented that the sheer level of workplace gossip flowing around via email was higher than he expected. “I was a little surprised that it turned out to be almost 15%,” he said. “But then again, gossip is something we all do in every aspect of our lives. 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.”


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