The cartoon characters Betty Rubble and Wilma Flintstone may have something in common with female office workers in the South West. No, they don't use a baby woolly mammoth as a vacuum cleaner, but they do share a passion for the ancient art of gossip.

Social anthropologists have discovered that break time gossip is actually a vital instinct borrowed from our Stone Age sisters and forms the crucial glue that bonds women at work helping them go further in their careers.

Research published today by soft drinks company Diet Coke shows that women working in the South West are spending 48 minutes a day, equivalent to nearly a whopping one-and-a-half years of their working lives, clucking away with friends and colleagues.

According to the report, written by anthropologist Kate Fox of the Social Issues Research Centre: "The reason women can't keep a secret and why they gossip so much is because of a cavewoman instinct to bond with other women.

"In an evolutionary sense women have always needed sisterhood to survive - originally because it meant survival against the weather, predators and starvation.

"Now that we no longer face the same physical vulnerabilities as our Stone Age sisters our natural socialising abilities have adapted to become the backbone of girls' survival against what is still in some cases regarded as a male dominated workplace."

Kate Fox added: "The sharing of secrets and a sense of female collusion play a vital role in forming these bonds - so secrets divulged over a work break could end up being the step up the career ladder today's young women in particular are striving for."

Possibly taking a lead from TV characters such as Katie Hopkins from The Apprentice or Ugly Betty chatterbox receptionist Amanda, half of 18-25 year old women (49 per cent) say that bonding is crucial in order to secure success in the modern workplace and over a third of women across the South West (35 per cent) use a quick break as a strategic moment to gossip and share secrets to form these bonds.

The research also found that nearly a quarter of women in the South West (20 per cent) have met one of their best friends at work.

So what about the Barney Rubbles and Fred Flintstones of the office, do men also use gossip as a form of strategic networking?

Bournemouth University lecturer Richard Smale, at the Institute of Health, believes that gossip knows no gender barrier: "Gossip is a validation of someone's existence.

"Men would have the general public believe that gossiping is a female trait, but the biggest washerwomen tend to be men. If you want to make a name for yourself and an identity, well gossip can help that. Just think how much work is done on the golf course."

Mr Smale also noted that increased competition in the workplace between the sexes could also be a factor.

"If you go back a generation and went into WH Smiths you would see female magazines such as Vogue and Harpers and Queens. But you wouldn't see the proliferation of lads mags' or men's lifestyle magazines that you find today.

"Men have got closer to women in that context and make judgements that are closer, too. It could be the different nature of competition in the workplace."

The four golden rules of gossip

While girl talk is recognised as crucial to women at work, there are some universally agreed rules of good gossip' that all women agree must be adhered to:

  • 1. Don't be seen to be a gossip, but be good at it
  • 2. For no "one likes a gossip" read "no one likes a bad gossip" (especially at work)
  • 3. Deny your gender stereotype, express disdain for gossip
  • 4. Deny your celebrity gossip knowledge