Workplace Water Cooler Rumors

April 2012

Many employers using technology understand the dynamic implications of workplace rumors. Rumors can create an environment of mistrust, hostility, low motivation, and low productivity. Managers who are trained to recognize the root causes of rumors and how to prevent them, or at least be able to manage rumors, can more effectively set the stage for teamwork success.

Rumors arise due to various reasons. Some reasons arise from relationships at the workplace, work stressors, and dealing with personal job satisfaction. In general, there is a natural tendency to engage in rumors or listen in to what is happening around us due to human needs of wanting to communicate, stay informed, and fit in with peers. Some employees engage in this fashion to gain more control and to see how much power they may have in comparison to others. Often, when employees do not know why certain management decisions are being made, gossip and rumors begin. A manager’s clear and effective communication style, with his or her employees, is crucial.

Managers can do a lot to address workplace rumors. Here are some top picks:

  • Values. Ensure values are in line with the rest of staff. Managers should make an effort to state what will not be tolerated.
  • Open door policy. Managers should welcome feedback from all employees to speak about the company and their own job positions. When managers avoid direct communication with employees, employees often feel compelled to engage in conversation about “what ifs” to what may be happening. Employees assume future developments involving staff and business practices about products or services may be changed.
  • Confidential suggestion box. Managers can put up a suggestion box that allows for employees to anonymously submit in their concerns or comments in regards to what is bothering them or how things are going for them.
  • Discipline. Manage employees who continue to engage in rumors and or are not mindful about workplace productivity.
  • Third-party mediation. Gain more neutral input by having a third person take notes at the mediation and keep everyone on track. More specifically, if the tone / content of the conversation becomes inappropriate, they can help bring it back to an appropriate level.
  • Employee independence. Employees should learn how to handle gossip on their own. Whenever a gossiper is confronted, he or she will think twice about doing it again. Avoid using the word “you” but having the person who is the target of the gossip state something in an “I” statement.

In today’s workplace, it can be difficult to escape workplace gossip issues. Those who engage as the senders of workplace gossip and those who are the recipients tend to hear different things and build different interpretations which can lead to infectious discontent. It is encouraged for employees and managers to speak to one another on-going about decisions, upcoming plans, etc. to fill in communication gaps. By doing so, it will greatly help prevent rumors from starting and speculation from occurring.

This information is provided by the HR Support Center.