One in seven emails sent at work is gossip, claim researchers.
They found gossiping has moved from the watercooler to the computer - at every level of the organisation.
And being negative outnumbers the positive messages by nearly three to one.
US social scientists analysed hundreds of thousands of emails from the former Enron energy trading giant, but say the findings could apply to any big company anywhere.
They found 14.7 percent of the emails could be called gossip, because the content concerned people who were not among the recipients.
Every level of worker gossiped, but the lower ranks gossip the most.
Eric Gilbert, assistant professor of the School of Interactive Computing, said it is estimated that the average corporate email user sends 112 emails every day.
About one out of every seven of those messages can be classified as gossip - but it’s not necessarily a bad thing, he said.
“I was a little surprised that it turned out to be almost 15 percent. But then again gossip is something we all do in every aspect of our lives.
“Gossip gets a bad rap. 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.”
The researchers analysed language used in some of the 600,000 messages available for study from Enron, which went bankrupt in 2001.
They found “negative” gossip was 2.7 times more prevalent than positive gossip.
Just as with face-to-face gossip, they found gossip on emails serving the same four main purposes of providing information, entertainment, intimacy and influence in both business and personal relationships.
The researchers divided the emails among seven layers of Enron hierarchy, from rank-and-file office employees all the way up to presidents and CEOs, and found gossip emails flowing within and among nearly every level, with the heaviest flow among the rank-and-file.
However, the second heaviest flow within a single level occurred among Enron vice presidents and directors, and by a wide margin the strongest upward flow of gossip was from the vice presidents and directors up one level to presidents and CEOs.
Vice presidents and directors also gossiped the most down the chain, with the heaviest downward flow originating from their level and ending up at the lowest, rank-and-file level.
Prof Gilbert admitted Enron had a “cowboy culture,” but says most employees were not involved in activities that brought the company down and they probably behaved internally to each other in the same way as other big corporations.
Tom Stewart, executive chairman of UK-based System Concepts and an expert on the human aspects of technology, said email was another forum for gossip in the office.
He said “If you’re going to gossip by other methods, then you’re bound to gossip using email.
“But people forget it’s a broadcast medium, once it’s written down in an email the chances are it can be retrieved.
“The important thing is never to write in an email what you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of a daily newspaper - it’s not likely to remain a secret, just like other kinds of gossip.” - Daily Mail