How to Deal with Company Rumors

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Nature of Company Rumors

“[W]orkplace rumors are systematic and can be spread faster than the organization’s formal communication channels. Mishra (1990) further states, “the grapevine is also capable of penetrating even the tightest security because it cuts across organizational lines and deals directly with people in the know” (p. 52). Organizations should not ignore rumors in the workplace that have the potential to harm its brand/image. This being said, organizations need to take responsibility and address rumors in the workplace before the situation becomes out of control.

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Rumors abound in office conversations. Although 90% of employees are usually passive listeners, 10% take gossip seriously and are said to be active links in the passage of information (Hunter, 1983). Rumors in the company may contain different types of topics. But rumors in the workplace tend to focus on three most prevalent categories: on the quality of someone’s work, tenure (whether or not someone’s keeping their job] and personnel changes. Rumors are outcomes of interpersonal relationships. Research indicates that rumors among employees result from an organizational structure that frequently exposes employees to role conflict and ambiguity. Thus, a company with a “toxic” organizational culture can be prone to office rumors. The higher is level interpersonal conflicts in the company; the higher would the level of office rumors. In addition, employees experience rumors because of conflict between the instrumental and expressive functions that they perform (Rosnow, 1983)” (Akande and Odewale, 1994, p. 28).

Despite its destructive force in the workplace, a major percentage of employees considered the grapevine as the main source of information about organizational affairs. Since it is perceived by employees as a personal type of communication, it frequently has a strong impact on them than formalized channels of communication. The grapevine is much more flexible than formalized channels of communication. It is also a rapid source of informal news. After a “news” event occurs in an organization, the grapevine makes information available almost immediately (Akande and Odewale, 1994, p. 28).

The existence of rumors during crises and uncertainties is a fact of life. “The good news is that preventive and remedial actions are possible, allowing professional communicators to minimize or even to stop the damage from rumors. Effectively preventing or controlling rumors requires an understanding of the psychological and sociological factors that drive people to listen to, pass along and believe rumors” (Doorely & Garcia, 2007).

How to Deal with Rumors in the Company

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There are essentially three ways to manage rumor in a company (Koller, 1992). The first is to try “to wait them out.” Some rumors dissipate over time and do little harm. Only rarely are rumors serious enough to require action. Second, if waiting fails, the rumor must be publicly refuted. When the rumor is refuted and also made to look unreasonable in public it negates its “news value” (Shiburani, 1966). This strategy is the most straightforward and aggressive. The company (or other target) names the specific rumor and discredits its usefulness and the credibility of its source through an advertising campaign, a press conference or highly publicized event such as one used by a company while denying the accusation of promoting Satanism (Pettijohn, 1987). This technique is effective in making people disregard those still interested to pass the rumor along. Third, truth or authentic information should be released or positively advertised as swiftly as possible. The last point strives to associate the target of the rumor with positive features such as the company’s traditional commitment to quality, excellence and consumer satisfaction. For instance, a Canadian brewery has used this strategy in strengthening the link between its company and positive features, while simultaneously at the same time dissociating the company and the rumor that is it owned by a Pakistani shareholder. Kaferer (1990) has suggested alternative, but not empirically acceptable, rebuttal strategies, such as creating counter-rumor and spreading disinformation” (Akande and Odewale, 1994, p. 28).

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If rumors seem to threaten the business organization, there are basically two ways to deal with them. The first is to try to prevent them. The supervisor must recognize that rumors have definite causes, most anchored on the lack of information about things important to employees and on the insecurity and anxiety that go with them. Whatever the cause, it must remember that rumors are received and transmitted by people in terms of their biases. Thus, the general theme of the rumors may be maintained, but the details are often altered to serve vested interests. The second is to try to vanquish rumors if they already affect productivity, community relations, or interdepartmental cooperation (Keith, 1975). “In refuting a rumor, a manager or supervisor should release the truth as quickly as possible. If a rumor is not subdued or quashed quickly, employees will interpret later events in the light of the rumor” (Akande and Odewale, 1994, p. 29).

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