|Gossip Makes Up Nearly 15 Percent of Work Email|
|Nation - Workplace|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Monday, 18 June 2012 06:00|
Atlanta, GA, USA. A new study says out of an estimated 112 email messages sent by the average corporate email user per day, about one out of every seven can be called gossip.
Classifying messages that contain information about a person or persons not among the recipients as gossip 14.7 percent of the emails qualify. Moreover, it is prevalent at all levels of the corporate hierarchy, though lower levels gossip the most.
Assistant Professor Eric Gilbert of the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) examined hundreds of thousands of emails from the former Enron corporation, commonly referred to as the Enron Corpus. "Gossip gets a bad rap," said Gilbert, an expert in social computing who runs the Comp.Social Lab at Georgia Tech. "When you say 'gossip,' most people immediately have a negative interpretation, but it's actually a very important form of communication".
Professor Eric Gilbert has found that 14.7% of workplace emails can be classified as gossip. It is prevalent among all levels of organizational hierarchies (though lowest ranks gossip the most), and negative gossip is almost three times as prevalent as positive gossip.
The study is based on the Enron (email) Corpus, and Dr. Gilbert collaborated with Ph.D. student Tanushree Mitra.
Video courtesy of Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) Music by Gil Weinberg, Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology. Time: 00:01:25.Gilbert says gossip is generally how we know what we know about each other, and for this study the researchers viewed it simply as a means to share social information. Even tiny bits (like Eric said he'd be late for this meeting) add up; after just a few of those messages, you get an impression that Eric is a late person.
Still, another finding was that "negative" gossip, characterized through a Natural Language Text Processing analysis, was in fact 2.7 times more prevalent than positive gossip, though a significant portion of the messages were sentiment-neutral. The findings, according to Gilbert and Ph.D. student Tanushree Mitra, represent an important test of anthropological theories about gossip in what can reasonably be called the world's most popular electronic social medium: email.
"There is a rich literature in anthropology and sociology on the universality and utility of gossip among human social groups," Mitra said. "A recent survey of that literature summarized gossip as having four main purposes: information, entertainment, intimacy and influence. We found evidence of all those categories in the Enron emails, relating to 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.
Might these findings be unique to Enron? After all, actions leading to the energy-trading company's 2001 bankruptcy have earned it a notorious place in U.S. corporate history. Could such an environment lead to social behavior that is outside the norm?
"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," Gilbert said. "A lot of the emails we're looking at were from the rank-and-file. 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."
Indeed, the Enron Corpus some 600,000 messages purchased following the company's bankruptcy and now made freely available for study represents the world's largest publicly accessible body of naturally occurring emails, and it has provided grist for numerous scientific and technical advances.
For example, email spam filters took a huge leap forward in efficiency in 2005 due largely to advancements made from analyzing the Enron corpus. And recently, Gilbert himself used Enron emails to discover that certain words and phrases in email strongly predict whether those messages are delivered up or down the corporate hierarchy. Still, Gilbert admitted to finding a slightly higher level of workplace gossip flowing around via email than he expected.
"I was a little surprised that it turned out to be almost 15 percent," 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."
CitationHave You Heard? How Gossip Flows Through Workplace Email. Tanu Mitra and Eric Gilbert. Presented at the 6th International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM '12), held at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI).
We spend a significant part of our lives chatting about other people. In other words, we all gossip. Although sometimes a contentious topic, various researchers have shown gossip to be fundamental to social life from small groups to large, formal organizations. In this paper, we present the first study of gossip in a large CMC corpus. Adopting the Enron email dataset and natural language techniques, we arrive at four main findings. First, workplace gossip is common at all levels of the organizational hierarchy, with people most likely to gossip with their peers. Moreover, employees at the lowest level play a major role in circulating it. Second, gossip appears as often in personal exchanges as it does in formal business communication. Third, by deriving a power-law relation, we show that it is more likely for an email to contain gossip if targeted to a smaller audience. Finally, we explore the sentiment associated with gossip email, finding that gossip is in fact quite often negative: 2.7 times more frequent than positive gossip.
|Last Updated on Monday, 18 June 2012 06:57|