We have all heard the adage that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. But maybe gossip has gotten a bad rap. According to new research, gossip at work can be seen as a virtue.

Shimul Melwani of the University of North Carolina has researched the consequences of gossip in the workplace. If an individual gossips about someone on his or her team, the research contends that that person is viewed as being less trustworthy. However, an individual who gossips about someone on another team can be seen as someone who is building trust, promoting cooperation, and creating a social glue for their own team. The gossipers themselves, though, experience higher levels of positive emotions than those who abstain, and also report higher levels of energy and motivation, but lower levels of self-esteem.

Researcher Matthew Feinberg has even found a way that gossip makes people better off. Researchers gave participants $10, and they were told they could share as much as they want to another player. That player’s amount would be tripled, and then that player would be able to share as much as he wanted with the participant. Most people gave the entire $10 to the other player, so he would have $30. Instead of sharing this amount, that player decided to keep all $30, leaving the participant with nothing. The participant was then told that now the nefarious player is going to play this game with another person. The participants were told they have the opportunity to pass this new person a note – and 96% of participants chose to use the note as a way to gossip, writing that the player is selfish, not likely to share, out for his own interests, and more.

Once they had gossiped, participants’ heart rates dropped (most increased once they realized they had been treated unfairly). Furthermore, the more the individual valued fairness, the more likely they were to participate in this form of gossip, called prosocial gossip. In fact, in another of Feinberg’s studies, 76% of participants were willing to pay their own money just for the opportunity to gossip in an attempt to create an even playing field for others! Researchers believe that prosocial gossip may have a valuable purpose – making the community more aware of an individual’s reputation and keeping individuals from behaving in selfish and dishonest ways in order to keep their reputation intact.

Do you think gossip helps or hurts in the workplace? What is the role of gossip where you work?