Hey, have you heard ... ? It's at the mention of that telltale phrase that ears instantly prick up, waiting to hear the latest juicy tidbit...

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Hey, have you heard … ?

It’s at the mention of that telltale phrase that ears instantly prick up, waiting to hear the latest juicy tidbit, freshly squeezed from the rumor mill.

A recent study shows exactly how prevalent gossip is in the workplace.

The report found that the majority of employees view water-cooler chat as more informative than what the boss has to say when it comes to work-related issues.

Sixty-three percent of U.S. employees said rumors are usually how they first hear about important business matters, according to the study by ISR, a global employee research and consulting firm headquartered in Chicago.

“Good leaders are good communicators, and this research shows that managers in the U.S. have a lot to learn,” ISR Executive Director Adam Zuckerman said.

According to the study, gossip seems to prevail in the workplace — despite the fact that such talk is routinely derided by bosses, human-resources professionals, career counselors, etiquette gurus and your mom.

But despite its negative connotations and perceptions as merely self-serving babble, gossip serves a broader, anthropological function, explains one New York researcher.

These exchanges are integral in the study of better understanding the mechanics of how groups of people successfully interact with one another, said David Sloan Wilson, a professor of biology and anthropology at the State University of New York, Binghamton.

“There’s a kind of theory behind this, that a human social group, including a business organization, is much more complicated than we think,” Wilson said.

While gossip can be seen as self-serving, it also serves an important “policing function” in a group, said Wilson, author of the book, “Darwin’s Cathedral.”

People also know they’re accepted in the group when they’re included in the gossip.

Take away the gossiping in a group, he contends, and you take away part of its core.

“You give the group a lobotomy, in some ways, when you take away the gossip.”

The role gossip plays specifically in the workplace depends on whether the workers feel the company is functioning well or poorly, Wilson said.

If employees like the business, then gossip is “nature’s way of facilitating communication among members of the organization.”

The dynamic of gossip among unhappy employees dissatisfied with their company can be viewed as a threat by bosses, he said, possibly because it forces the group to be more egalitarian than the employer wants it to be.

“One reason that employers don’t like gossip is that it’s being used as a very effective weapon, and it’s one that they can’t control,” Wilson said.

Managers who keep workers in the dark about company concerns can breed anxiety and fuel rumors and gossip, said Jay Christensen-Szalanski, a professor in the department of management and organization at the University of Iowa.

“I cannot see any beneficial reason to advocate the use of gossip in business,” he said.

So it’s best to keep the lines of communication open.

“You should certainly make sure that you’re a source of information for [workers] so that they don’t have to go to other places for it,” he said.

“The information vacuum will be filled by rumors and gossip.”