How rumors undermine staff trust—and 6 ways to quell them

Watercooler talk isn’t always about the big game, the Oscars or the next holiday weekend. Too often, gossip is the hot topic. Here’s how to keep destructive speculation to a minimum.

How to stop office gossip

Psssssst. Want to hear something juicy?

Workplace gossip could be undermining your organization.

Rumors—regardless of how outlandish or inaccurate they are—can damage morale, foment cynicism and lower productivity. Rumors circulate amid organizational change, new leadership, mergers and acquisitions, media attention and more. Once they take root, they can be difficult to remove.

There is a remedy: Effective internal communications can quell rumors, even eradicate them before they take seed.

Follow these six tips to combat rumors:

1. Provide a constructive outlet.

When it comes to spreading workplace rumors, email is a prime culprit. About one in seven work emails could be considered gossip, and it’s nearly three times as likely to be negative as positive.

It’s not always possible to prevent rumors, so instead, provide a positive outlet for feedback.

Circulate a staff survey to canvass opinions on hot topics. Staffers can air their feelings, and managers can gauge the mood of the workplace. Anonymity encourages staff participation, and built-in reporting makes extracting insights easy.

2. Share regular updates.

No news is definitely not good news. Rumors spread in a vacuum, and the absence of communication is more likely to breed speculation than bury it.

Maintaining a system of regular communication is vital—even if there’s nothing new to say. For staff, hearing from managers regularly reinforces a sense of transparency and reassures them that nothing insidious is being hidden.

Of course, that isn’t to say that absolutely everything should be shared. Commercial sensitivities will preclude the airing of certain details, but regularly updating as much as reasonable is valuable in itself. A well-designed digital newsletter can be highly effective.

3. Be forthright.

A business run behind closed doors is a business where rumors fester. To nip these in the bud, tackle them head on. That means fronting up in person.

Addressing rumors is always more effective when done face to face. For staff, this conveys credibility and openness. If this isn’t feasible, for example if you operate a chain of remote offices or retail stores that would be difficult to visit, use video instead.

One popular approach to this is to run an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session with your CEO or other senior management. Ensure they’re sufficiently prepped to outline the company position convincingly and to handle likely questions from the staff.

4. Uncover underlying trends.

It’s best to anticipate harmful rumors before they begin, but that requires detective work.

Take a proactive approach to your intranet forums and social media channels. Analyze the content for threads suggesting dissatisfaction. Are there common denominators in subjects, teams, locations etc?

Respond to subject-based issues through staff surveys, AMAs or other channels. Address team or location-based issues through messages delivered by line managers.

5. Share results and outcomes.

How’s that new product line performing? How did the presentation to that potential big customer go? Where did we finish up last quarter?

Organizations have significant events happening all the time, from major projects to sales pitches to quarterly reports. If internal communicators have been doing their job right, employees will be aware of all these, in some cases eagerly awaiting the results.

It’s crucial to share the results with staff, even when outcomes are disappointing. Few things foster unproductive speculation more than conspicuous absence of awaited information.

Share the results equally with all staff, including mobile workers, people in remote offices and those working in non-desk roles.

6. Affirm correct behavior.

Reinforce your expectations through passive internal communication channels such as corporate screensavers or wallpapers. It’s a gentle yet official reminder of what proper comportment looks and sounds like.

It can even be a positive force in the workplace, so the only watercooler talk is about how great it is to work there.

Michael Hartland is an internal communication specialist at SnapComms.

COMMENT

One Response to “How rumors undermine staff trust—and 6 ways to quell them”

    Adam Schair says:

    Nature abhors a vacuum. As well-stated in this article, when there is a lack of transparent communications, employees will fill in the information; and it is rarely with information that is positive or helpful.

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