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How can we control outlandish rumors at work?

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John Wilcox

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in People Management,The HR Specialist Forum

Our employees are by far the “gossipiest” group I have ever worked with. Rumors fly around the shop floor and office at lightning speed. These people dish the dirt on each other, and they’re always “learning” that we’ve just lost a big customer or we’re going to cut hours or someone is about to get fired. Of course, most of these rumors are untrue. I try to put out the fires as fast as possible, but I’m wondering if there’s a better overall way to put an end to this weird culture. Has anyone else faced this problem? Any advice on what I can do so gossip isn’t such a distraction?—Pete, Bay Area

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tori January 20, 2011 at 11:12 am

Communication is key which can be accomplished via email or in meetings. However, if the gossip is against another employee or is undermining management, then a manager or HR might need to step in and have a one-on-one. These issues can very quickly get of hand and cause performance issues and hostile work environments.

Also, you can ask HR to have a session/module (in-person or online) on the damages gossip and rumors can cause and the penalties employees who spread them might suffer, especially if they are against a protected group. This module can also teach them ways on how not to respond to them and help cut it down. Managing it is key.

From personal experience, I have witnessed when managers turned a deaf ear time and time again, which only caused to create hostile work environments where threats were made by the employees to other employees. Now, all parties have been termintated, including those managers. All of that could have been prevented.


Steven January 12, 2011 at 9:31 am

You have to get out in front of the rumors, not react to them–putting out fires. That means having some kind of proactive communications program designed to provide lots of information so employees don’t feel the need to “fill in the blanks” through the rumor mill. A short weekly meeting within each department might work. Manangers can use this time to talk about where the business is going, what new business is in the works, personnel changes, etc. You could do the same thing with an employee newsletter or a weekly all-staff email. Of course, this will only work if senior executives are willing to send this information down the org chart. (If they are not willing to do that then you have bigger problems than employee gossip.) The point is that people will try to fill an information vacuum, and if they don’t have real information to go on, then they will naturally fall back on rumors and gossip. You can short circuit that dysfunctional dynamic by giving them the information they seek.


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