As it turns out, gossiping by the water cooler may not be such a bad thing after all.
On the contrary, the way news travels around the office -- both formally and informally -- may help employers determine the best modes for corporate communication at their company, new research shows.
Almost two-thirds, or 64 percent, of office workers say that people in their office gossip about company news at some point, according to a survey by Steelcase, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based office-services firm. And their sources are often pretty good -- 76 percent of respondents report that news they hear from co-workers is accurate always, usually, or some of the time.
According to Chris Congdon, manager of corporate marketing at Steelcase, every workplace has the designated people who help move information along. Congdon labels the office employees who know the scoop as the "hubs," and those who have the ability to grant access to people and information in the office as the "gatekeepers."
Knowing the communication habits of employees, and identifying the "hubs" and the "gatekeepers" of the office, can actually be useful information to managers, Congdon said. "When you know how information travels, you know the key people to tap into to get feedback -- the people who have their finger on the pulse, so to speak."
Not surprisingly, gossip is typically spread by the younger members of an organization -- only 9 percent of workers ages 18 to 24 say they keep company news quiet, compared to 48 percent of workers ages 55 to 64. According to Congden, the shift in the way news travels in the workplace is largely a result of changes in the corporate landscape as more and more baby boomers retire.
"Generation Yers are moving into the workforce in volumes and we are seeing huge changes in how corporate cultures work," Congden said. "This younger generation has very different expectations. They are looking for much more information from their organization and they want their workplace to be more nurturing."
"They are looking to move more rapidly, just like they move information more rapidly," Congden added. As long as managers don't assume that all news will be kept under wraps, the free flow of information can be a positive thing. "Wouldn't it be great if all information traveled at the rate of a rumor?"
According to the survey results, gossip is no longer just exchanged by the water cooler. In the Internet age, 10 percent of employees spread news through e-mail and on instant messenger. And 36 percent of respondents say they exchange information with co-workers in the office kitchen or break room, while 33 percent are bold enough to pass on gossip at a co-worker's desk.
For their part, companies are catching on -- with fewer meetings and more staff-wide e-mails. Eighty percent of respondents said that their company uses a consistent method of delivering news and announcements, with 59 percent who say that e-mail is the most popular mode of formal communication, according to the survey.
Among employees who said there isn't a consistent mode of communication at their company, 31 percent said their first source of news is from an "off the record" conversation with a supervisor, followed closely by office gossip, at 28 percent.