Young managers often ask me about the rumor mill and whether or how to best manage it. The problem with rumors especially negative ones is that it can be like a virus that takes over and destroys and healthy work environment. Rumors and gossip fly especially during times of organizational change. Staff often imagine the worse in the absence of transparency and information. The rumor mill can quickly be normalized into the culture.
Last week, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the director of a large NICU in a safety net hospital experiencing budget issues. She advised me that I could only imagine the amount misinformation that could get circulated among her 200+ staff. She had what I thought was an extremely creative solution. Once a week, she does a series of huddles with her staff that she has titled “what don’t I know?“. The purpose of the huddles is to discuss the many rumors that often circulate in the unit. A recent funny one, she observed, was that her staff thought the new monitors that were being installed contained internal cameras filming their work. Although it was not true, she took the additional step of bringing out the product specifications to quell their fears. Staff, she explained, have come to love these huddles and so does she. What she has found is that there is usually a grain of truth in the rumors accompanied a significant amount of misinformation.
Workforce Expert Robert Half suggests the following leadership interventions to quell rumors:
- Maintain an open-door policy. If you want to be kept in the loop, your employees need to know you want them to come to you with their concerns. Some employees will still hesitate to speak up first, so be proactive and catch up with them regularly to keep your finger on the pulse of the office. Don’t assume this is not happening in your environment.
- Provide clear and candid information quickly. This is particularly important during change when office gossip tends to spread at a faster pace. Nothing gets the rumor mill churning faster than silence from management on an issue, so avoid withholding information and create an environment of transparency and trust.
- Address office rumors swiftly. Whether it’s a rumor about the company or about a particular employee, don’t wait to see if it fizzles out on its own. The negative feelings created by the rumor will only fester and lower morale. Taking action immediately to address the issue at the source of the gossip will help employees feel safe in their work environment and stay focused on their jobs.
- Share praise. When management displays a tendency to favor one staff member over the others, hurtful rumors are likely to follow. Show your staff you value collaboration by praising everyone for the roles they play in helping the team meet its goals. Office gossip about individual employees is less likely to occur when everyone feels that their work is appreciated.
- Clarify individual roles. Disagreements and “turf wars” often result from team members not fully understanding the parts their colleagues play during a project. Be explicit when you assign duties, and make sure everyone is aware of the chain of command. This will help avoid territorial squabbles while also enhancing productivity.
- Lead by example. One of the best ways to deal with office rumors as a manager is by being a positive role model. Never spread rumors and avoid criticizing your superiors in front of staff members. Managers who consistently demonstrate integrity will inspire the same from their employees.
© emergingrnleader.com 2017