Rumor Mill: Don’t let the office tabloids spin out of control

Office gossip is going to happen no matter what you do as a boss. Cliques form, people chat, opinions are formed. This is all totally fine office procedure. However, when rumors about office politics and policies start swirling, then it can be a major problem. Getting ahead of the spin, controlling the information, and more importantly, limiting the misinformation is one of the most important and least accomplished roles of a manager that I have witnessed.

Aamodt (2007) compares informal organizational communication to the grapevine communication of the Civil War, when lines of distorted telegraphs were hung on lines resembling a grapevine.  The grapevine in today’s sense provides employees with organizational information, entertainment, and power (Aamodt, 2007).  Whether one person receives the information at a time or a few people pass the information to a few others and they pass it on to a few people, informal communication can spread quickly.

Research has shown that much of the information passed along the grapevine contains some truth to it (Aamodt, 2007).  However, some truth and all of the truth are two different things.  Hearing misinformation can greatly alter the perceptions of the listener (Aamodt, 2007).  Between misinformation and rumors through informal communication that change the organization’s functioning, it is wise for the employer to keep an ear in the grapevine.

I do not agree with completely regulating the grapevine, however.  It is important for communication to exist between team members (Aamodt, 2007).  Communication can increase efficiency and teamwork (Salanova, Agut, & Peiro, 2005).  Regulating communication then can hinder the performance of workgroups.  However, if a manager, whom Aamodt (2007) mentions are the main contributors to the grapevine, hears major inconsistencies that may alter the functioning of the organization it is important that the manager clears the air and enhances communication. Without doing so will create an environment of fear, resentment, and panic.

I worked with a manager who refused to do this. He was new and started making changes left and right at a business that was established and had always resisted making any changes in the past. People started panicking that their jobs might be the next changes to be made. I informed him of the panic that was rampant and poisoning the employees but he did not care. Morale went down, performance went down, and a lot of people left.

I have consulted with a few managers who have been gun shy about what they should and should not disseminate. My advice: TELL THEM ANYTHING THAT DIRECTLY AFFECT THEM!!!! I can’t emphasize this enough! Any changes and new policies and new procedures should be told to everyone. People fear change and if you can explain to them what and why these things are happening then they will feel as if they’re a part of it, will not jump to conclusions, will have a chance to express their concerns and frustrations, etc etc. There is no good reason I can think of or that I have read that would lead me to suggest not explaining new direction.

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2007) Industrial/organizational psychology. An applied approach. (5th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Salanova, M., Agut, S., & Peiro, J.M. (2005). Linking organizational resources and work engagement to employee performance and customer loyalty: The mediation of service climate. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(6), 1217-1227.

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