ONE in seven emails sent by the average email user can be classed as gossip, according to new research.
A study of hundreds of thousands of emails from the bankrupted American energy firm Enron showed a typical company worker sent 112 emails a day.
But researchers examining the content of the digital messages found almost 15 per cent were written about other people.
Experts from The Georgia Institute of Technology in the US said the level of gossiping emails was consistent throughout the company while those ranked towards the bottom of the pay scale gossiped more.
Analysis of the emails found negative gossip was almost three times more common than positive gossip.
Assistant Professor Eric Gilbert said: "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."
Professor Gilbert said the pattern of communication at Enron was likely to be similar to other corporations.
"Enron certainly had what could be called a 'cowboy culture,' but I suspect the way they behaved internally to each other did not differ significantly from most other U.S. corporations," he added.
"A lot of the emails we're looking at were from the rank-and-file, and it was the Enron CEOs – a tiny fraction of its employee population – who initiated and directed the actions that brought the company down. The average employee had no idea what was going on."
He said the 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 per cent," Professor Gilbert 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."