The Rumor Mill

  • Sep 08, 2005
  • Vicky Smith
  • Management

We vicariously take part in other peoples’ dramas by watching Reality TV programs.  In the workplace we do it by being part of the ‘rumour mill’. If you have toddlers you might watch Veggie Tales with them. One video is called the Rumour Weed where a little boy covers up a bad deed with a lie, which grows into a rumour in the shape of a purple monster weed. The town gets into trouble because the rumour weed gets so huge it takes over the town.


As a manager, I was excluded from the rumour mill. When individuals came to see me in panic thinking the company was going to close, I had no idea where this information came from.  I often wondered why people didn’t come to me when they first heard these stories because I could have diminished their stress levels significantly.


Unfortunately people who give up control of their destinies to those who love spreading misinformation perpetuate the rumour mill. Most people hate confrontation and would rather be stressed and fearful than go to the right source and find out what’s happening. If we know the truth we may have to do something about it.


The drama that is created from gossip can be extremely debilitating for everyone.  Many people have become sick by worrying about non-existent situations.  We all love standing around the coffee machine or photocopier and gossiping – that’s being human.  When rumours become lies or malicious they detrimentally affect many peoples’ lives. “Gossip can take on a life of its own.  Some of it might only serve as background noise, but it can distract and demoralize workers,” say Annette Simmons author of ‘A Safe Place for Dangerous Truths: Using Dialogue to Overcome Fear and Distrust at Work’.


As employees, we can help stop the rumour mill by:


  • Stating as accurately as possible the information you are passing on.  Avoid adding your speculations of what the information means.

  • Asking questions about the source of the information if you doubt its validity. If you are not getting clear answers back, do not pass the information on.

  • Letting others know you will not take part in listening to information that is hurtful to others and you definitely will not pass it on.


From the company’s perspective, managers can control gossip by:


  • Keeping employees informed.  When employees know what’s going on within the organization they are far less likely to speculate.

  • Letting employees know that malicious personal gossip is not acceptable. 

  • Dealing with rumours immediately and confront chronic offenders.  If left unchecked, rumours can spiral out of control.

  • Scheduling once a month employee meetings that allow everyone to talk about their concerns in the workplace.

One of the significant results of the New York disaster is differing factions and ideologies united into one collaborative force to fight terrorism.   For management, unions and employees to survive our economic challenges, we need the same willingness to work together to open channels of communication so everyone gets the same message.  This type of collaboration will definitely shut down the rumour mill.