The manager of a large corporate office sits down at 8:00 am on a run-of-the-mill Monday morning to read her emails. Everything appears to be fine until she reaches the last couple of unread emails in her inbox from Friday afternoon. One of the emails is from Steve, one the firm’s salesmen, asking her if the company is really going to sell out at the end of the quarter this month. “That’s weird”, she thinks, “There isn’t going to be a sell-out, that ridiculous.” At 8:30 her secretary tells her that several of the accountants had asked about whether or not they were supposed to attend a meeting that afternoon to discuss the sell-out, even though there is no meeting schedule. By lunchtime the entire office is ablaze with panic and rumors, everyone is trying to figure out if their team or department is being down-sized or cut and zero work is being done. How could one email on Friday cause a complete meltdown by noon on Monday?
If this story sounds familiar, then you have dealt with this kind of rumor mill crisis in your own workplace before and you understand just how damaging they are to productivity and cohesiveness. But what can you do about it, rumors are just a fact of life aren’t they? This is a common misconception. The extent to which rumors affect your office is actually a reflection of the communication and leadership skills of the manager. This short guide will help you gauge your own efforts and think critically about what you could do to improve your leadership style. Here's how to prevent sell-out rumors amongst your employees from happening.
People will gossip to some extent regardless of what you do. However, preventing the large-scale rumors that cause work to grind to a halt is entirely within a manager’s power. Avoid the negative effects of the rumor mill by focusing on communication. Many of the mistakes that managers make when communicating with their employees come from notions that are misconceived as “traditional” office practices. These include separate work spaces for management and the rest of the employees, closed-door meetings, and making employees come to the manager when they have questions. These are all actually easy for the manager to fix by changing their leadership style to one that is more focused on accommodating the follower than empowering the leader. Transparency is key, send out memos, leave your office door open, walk around and visit with employees as often as possible. Essentially, minimize how much you know about the company’s future that the employees don’t also know. Here are some things to keep in mind when trying to prevent speculative rumors about your company’s future:
- Every rumor begins with a grain of truth, but uncertainty causes people to attempt to fill in the gaps without evidence and this leads to the rumor becoming exaggerated and false. Strive to remove as much uncertainty as possible from statements and memos. If you still have doubts, then go out and talk to your employees to make sure they understood the information.
- Create a culture of transparency. Honest and clear communication is what builds trust. People hate the feeling of being left out of the loop, and when they feel this way their minds will wander and they will begin to mistrust you and the company. You want your employees to rely on you as a source of accurate information, if you accomplish this then they will be less inclined to go to one another for information.
- Be open and honest. If there is sensitive information that you cannot give them, then tell them that is why details are not forthcoming. However, be careful with using “it’s classified” as an explanation. This will work when it is the truth but people will eventually figure it out if you are not telling them just because the information is negative, that is why honesty is key.
- Be proactive and try to cut off rumors before they become a problem, create a culture that deters rumors from starting and allows you and your employees to communicate as equals.