Rumors in the Workplace
“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” (Sir Walter Scott). Rumors can be devastating to both a company as well as the employees in some cases even crippling the company itself. Most employees do not realize that is exactly what they are doing when repeating unsubstantiated comments. A rumor, by Webster’s definition, is an unconfirmed but widely circulated story or a piece of gossip. Once a company is faced with the rumor mill they have a choice to make. They may either acknowledge there is a problem, seek out a strategy, and develop a solution or they may choose to ignore the situation and allow it to fester. Each person from the CEO to the entry-level employee is responsible for his or her actions.
There are many different causes for rumors. Most often they come about due to a lack of information or false perceptions. As Carol Patton states in her article Deal with Gossip, “if employees don’t know the truth, they will create their own truth and oftentimes, it’s a heck of a lot worse than reality”. Unfortunately this concept has been lost or overlooked by executives as well as upper management. Executives tend to be hesitant when addressing this issue and find it too much of a hassle to deal with. When companies are in the middle of restructuring, merging, downsizing, or making personnel changes they have a tendency to keep certain information confidential. By being reluctant in disclosing the reason for the changes or sometimes even acknowledging them, the company is automatically ostracizing their employees. Most often employees are discouraged and deemed a troublemaker if they address this issue with upper management. This type of response causes employees to become frustrated and feel they have nowhere else to turn. This is an opening for the employee to read into the changes. Since “rumors tend to be based on some piece of fact” (Konstantin), they have all they need to make assumptions as to what is taking place. The employee will “frequently handle the situation with a high school like mentality by spreading rumors” (Turner, Luc). The upper management needs to be aware of how they are viewed by their employees.
Rumors will effect both to the company as well as the employee. Most time these effects will be noticeable in either the behavior or attitudes of the staff. Research has shown that by management neglecting the concerns put forth by employees it will jeopardize relationships and launch a series of confrontations (Carol Patton). This also shows a lack of integrity from leaders. Employees will start backing off from other coworkers by putting up barriers. They no longer feel their coworkers are helpful. Working under pressure has become a given for most anyone in the professional industry. However, with the added stress of rumors and misinformation, staff usually ends up burning out quickly. Normally the employees will begin to exhibit sabotage type behavior. There will be an increase in turnovers, absenteeism, lateness, decreased productivity and even lowered morale. The most damaging of these is the effects rumors have on an individual’s or a corporation’s reputation. This is almost the same as a first impression, they usually stick and people tend to want to believe what they hear. A perfect example would be an employee with HIV/AIDS may think long and hard about rumors and speculations concerning themselves at work by reporting and documenting HIV/AIDS. Special arrangements will be made and some employees will perceive this as favoritism. This will in turn raise gossip at work and will add to the difficulty for management to maintain confidentiality (DiFonzo, et al, 1994). Some HR representatives will compare a rumor to a disease that spreads uncontrollably, destroying everything in its path and “can rock any organizational culture to its very core” (Carol Patton). According to Konstantin, the courts have generally...
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