Workplace Rumors: Stop Trouble in Its Tracks

Employees with the wrong information can cause a lot of problems if you don’t put an end to workplace gossip

Workplace Rumors: Stop Trouble in Its Tracks

At some point in your life, I am sure you have played the game of telephone. You tell a secret to a friend, and they pass it on. The secret is passed on over and over, constantly changing as people misunderstand or mishear the person telling it to them. By the end, the secret is nothing like the original statement. 

Sounds like a game for children, right? Yet, somehow it still happens from time to time in an office filled with adults.  

You would think as we get older we wouldn’t have the time or the energy for gossip. We all know that no good comes from it and that the story being spread is rarely correct. But gossip still seems to be part of our everyday life.  

This summer, I hired a young man to work in our main office. He did not have a ton of experience but was excited about the job and eager to learn. We were all excited to see what he could do as the previous person in that position had let a lot of things slip. Then, one day he just quit. He didn’t even come into work to tell me. He just sent me a text, saying he wouldn’t be back.

The real reason he didn’t come back? He heard a rumor that another employee made more money than him. This rumor wasn’t true. In fact, they were paid equally. An older, more experienced employee would most likely have come to me with this information and we could have talked it through. But, he didn’t have the experience or confidence in himself to handle the situation professionally. 

This was so disappointing because I had high hopes for him and what he could achieve. Maybe he would not have worked out in the long run, but I didn’t even get an opportunity to work with him.

This situation got me thinking about how many times a good employee went bad because they heard information that wasn’t true. As an outsider, you can see how ridiculous gossip is. It causes so many problems and needs to be nipped in the butt, but how?

The best place to start is with the source. Not everyone is comfortable with being confronted — or confronting someone, for that matter — but I like to take a chance in these cases. Asking the employee directly if there is a problem or if something is bothering them can stop trouble in its tracks. Maybe it is something silly like a parking spot or the location of their desk. Or maybe the problem is bigger, like their pay. Either way, I want to know what I am working with.

If the gossip goes too far and the employee leaves, you have to do some damage control. When this employee left, I explained to the other employees the bare bones of the story: He had left because he had bad information and that I never even had a chance to clear it up with him before he left. It is important for other employees to realize that not every story they hear is true.

In large companies, there are more layers and more confidential information. In a smaller company like ours, I believe in transparency. Employees don’t have to know everything, but as a team, I like them to know our challenges and our mistakes so we can learn from them.

I took the opportunity to explain that I have no time for gossip and for people who engage in it. This is a busy company, and if you have time to gossip, you probably aren’t doing your job. And I am sure it is the same in your company.



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