How to Prevent Rumors

Everyone gossips. So you can bank on the fact that your organization has an informal grapevine that circulates gossip and rumors. You can either ignore it or manage it. But if you choose to ignore it, we can tell you what the result will be: lower morale, decreased productivity, and higher employee turnover.

Researchers have found that "information" the grapevine transmits is accurate about 80% of the time. As the accuracy of those rumors is confirmed, your employees increasingly believe what they hear in the hallways and around the water cooler. If you ignore this rumor mill, the grapevine has more credibility than you do - and both the accurate and inaccurate information are equally credible to employees. There is a real, bottom-line cost to rumor-plagued organizations.

Even in the best communication environment, there will be some rumors. They start for a variety of reasons. For example, someone may try to gain personal advantage where redundant systems or departments will clearly be eliminated after a merger. Or, rumor may fill the void when management fails to address certain employee questions or concerns because they don't yet have the answers. Even fairly innocent gossip can mushroom into full-fledged rumors because major organizational change, no matter how well managed, produces stress and uncertainty.

Rumors can be largely prevented by filling the pipeline with accurate, consistent, and continuous official information. Here are some tips:

  • Address employee concerns immediately and completely, whenever possible. If you don't have the answers, make clear that you understand the concerns and will provide answers as soon as you have them.
  • When rumors are inaccurate, use both formal and informal communication channels to correct the false information, providing official statements that refer specifically to the rumors. Managers should also engage employees around the water cooler, in the cafeteria, and through trusted subordinates to supply accurate information to the grapevine and correct falsehoods.
  • When rumors are accurate, but the timing is not right to address or verify them, educate employees instead of ignoring them or, worse yet, lying to them. Explain that certain issues cannot be addressed at this time because of ongoing factors that affect many people. Employees need to appreciate that the premature release of certain information can impede negotiations with outside parties, affect banker or investor decisions, or cause customer relations problems. Enlist their help in respecting the timing, and assure them that they will hear the news as soon as possible.

At the heart of an effective rumor prevention and control program is the notion that employees respond positively when they are treated with respect and can count on being kept informed with straightforward, timely answers to their questions and concerns. In other words, this is an opportunity to build trust between management and employees. If there is little or no information vacuum, rumors won't thrive.

© Evergreen Communication