Friday, June 8, 2012

OMG! One In Seven Employee Emails Is Office Gossip

Did you hear what so-and-so did? Well, you're going to find out later today when your co-worker emails you about it, because one in every seven emails sent at work is comprised mostly of office scuttlebutt, according to a new Georgia Tech study. Ding! You've got mail!

Georgia Tech researchers went back through Enron's old internal emails and found nearly 15% were based purely on office "gossip" -- e.g., email that was primarily about a co-worker who was not included in the email conversation. And everyone was doing it, from the CEO to the entry-level customer service employee. Lower-level employees were a little more into e-gossiping, though.

The researchers distinguish between "positive" and "negative" email office gossip. Negative gossip is nearly three times more likely than positive email gossip, but gossip itself isn't always bad:

"Gossip gets a bad rap," said [Georgia Tech Assistant Professor Eric] Gilbert. "When you say 'gossip,' most people immediately have a negative interpretation, but it's actually a very important form of communication. Even tiny bits of information, like 'Eric said he'd be late for this meeting,' add up; after just a few of those messages, you start to get an impression that Eric is a late person. 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."

Let's just hope the gossip is, in fact, somewhat true and accurate, especially since the average corporate email user sends 112 emails every day. That's a lot of spelling errors flying here, there, their and they're. Is Enron's past email use, however, the best example to relate to the email-less work environments of 2012? Enron's work environment seemed a tad dysfunctional, not to mention a tad criminal. Modern communication tools such as texting and instant messaging were still a whisper leading up to Enron's 2001 bankruptcy and Facebook and Twitter didn't exist yet, which had to impact (increase?) employee reliance on email, at least somewhat. That's where this study loses me a little bit, but it's still interesting.

Click here for more information about Gilbert's research paper, "Have You Heard? How Gossip Flows Through Workplace Email."

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