Gossip Permeates 15 Percent of All Work Emails, Study Finds

By June 7, 2012

A recent study conducted by Georgia Tech has found that nearly 15 percent of the average 112 emails sent by workers daily can be classified as gossip. According to the study, the high amount of gossip going on in the corporate world may not be such a bad thing after all.

Eric Gilbert, assistant professor of Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing, lead the study that examined 600,000 emails composed by employees at all levels of the infamous Enron corporation – which declared bankruptcy in 2001 after years of being propped up by fraudulent accounting. The collection of the company’s internal emails are the largest of its kind freely available to social researchers.

While examining the emails, the study pinpointed instances where a person was mentioned who was not the sender or recipient of the message. Each of these instances were recorded as gossip for the purposes of the study. Among all levels of the corporate structure, Georgia Tech researchers found that the lowest ranks of the corporation spread the most gossip, and that negative gossip was nearly three times more common than positive gossip in the workplace.

Despite gossip’s generally negative connotations, researchers found that engaging in gossip is a great way to spread important social information about employees, over time allowing for a better understanding of the habits of coworkers.

“Gossip gets a bad rap,” Gilbert said. “Gossip is generally how we know what we know about each other, and for this study we viewed it as a means to share social information.”

The study connected the instances of gossip found in the Enron emails to recently uncovered tenants found in social and anthropological texts relating to human behavior. The common purpose of gossip largely coincided with the societal needs for information, entertainment, intimacy, and influence, researchers said.

Georgia Tech researchers are set to present their findings during the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence Conference on Weblogs and Social Media this week.

Corey Cummings

Corey is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison where he received degrees in English and Creative Writing. He currently lives in Chicago and enjoys alternately obsessing over video games that aren't out yet and crazy gadgets he can't afford.