Benefitting from the rumor mill
Written by: Renée LeMoine
Photo by: V&V
“Global economic and political changes are forcing a few companies around us to implement changes, including layoffs. Our company is in good shape, but watching our business partners suffer makes my staff nervous. As a result, rumors are starting to float around the office that are totally groundless.
Rumors, whether true or not, can seriously undermine morale. Conditions such as those most businesses face today tend to stimulate rumor mill activity. Management must monitor and manage it accordingly by reporting facts and focusing on truths to counter negativity that will stem from rumors.
Organizational studies have found that rumors emerge when there is ambiguity and stressful conditions during situations that are important to employees, thus arousing anxiety. Gossip often exists and seldom goes away completely; therefore, a wise manager simply chooses to use it to his advantage.
When monitoring and managing rumors, it is helpful to keep in mind that gossip performs a number of purposes, including structuring and reducing anxiety. Gossip helps make sense of limited or fragmented information. It can serve as a vehicle for organizing group members into coalitions, and may signal a sender’s status and power. “We are a group, and you are not part of it,” or “I have the power to include you in our group,” are two examples of the underlying meaning behind a gossiper’s intention.
Managers should monitor grapevine patterns and observe which individuals are interested in what issues, including who is likely to pass rumors along. Doing so will make it easier to manage the grapevine by planting messages that you want employees to hear. Monitoring the rumor mill will also enable you to lessen the impact of destructive messages. The impact of destructive messages can be lessened by announcing timetables for making important decisions, openly explaining decisions that appear inconsistent or secretive, counter-balancing the downside with the upside, and being honest about worst case scenarios.
“News from Behind My Hand: Gossip in Organizations”,Organization Studies, 1993.
Article prepared by Renée LeMoine, Executive Director, LeMoine & Associates