Mass redundancy – where everyone assumes that HR and bosses knew the ‘chop’was coming a long time ago
Someone’s leaving – of course, say the gossip-mongers, they’re leaving due to a fall-out or a mishap earlier in the year …when in fact a health scare and the opportunity to opt for early retirement have prompted a decision to spend time with young grandchildren
A forthcoming restructure – and the idea of a new boss or changes to the team grows into a monstrous threat – rendering some people scared, unfocused and unproductive
And the nominees are…when the rumour mill confirms who’s next to be promoted – and then they’re not
If we raise concerns, we might hear:
“Just ignore it!”
“Oh, it’s only speculation.”
“It’s a bit of fun.”
But the effects can be damning.
Speculation (otherwise known as gossip) can:
De-stabilise a team once unity is uncertain
Create unhealthy competition if it’s perceived that some will be better off than others
Cause people to distrust leaders, the system, and their peers
Risk early information sharing or leaks – before due process/thought is complete
Generate an air which, when ‘it’ finally happens, meets it with unnecessary negativity
Contribute to a longer adjustment period after a change
Curb an otherwise-motivated individual’s commitment and enthusiasm – even instigating a job-search
Why does speculation have such an impact?
Many of us are heavily invested in work and our careers. For many it’s a vital part of our identity.
For others the workplace holds a huge sense of belonging when we spend at least 42% of our (awake) week in the job*. That doesn’t include the additional time we may spend thinking about it!
Work is where we can feel important, vital and needed. Work can be where we have close friends and our support network. Work can be the difference between having a roof over our heads and not.
Workplace routines are what we know and they give us boundaries in time routines and in behaviour. Much of our existence – for example our social life – is built around what we do, and when we’re at (and not at) work.
So what approaches – as leaders, managers and colleagues – can we take, to avoid stress-inducing speculation?
Gently steering people away from speculating – by suggesting that it may not be helpful and could stress out others. This won’t stop gossip but it may curb it to private conversations and lessen the impact.
Managing big news openly and honestly as early as possible. There’s enough suspicion about withheld information, often unfounded. If there’s something worth drip-feeding that is indicative (but not worry-causing through glaring gaps) then it can put minds at rest and they can focus on the job.
When changes are afoot but there’s no news, then being honest and telling people that no-one (not even at the top) has an update can avoid a ‘them and us’ scenario. It also limits the impression that others have ‘heard the news’ already.
Where there are concerns, asking people not for input and thoughts – but feelings.
Helping to point out fact from fiction. Someone thinking they ‘saw a document on the desk which looked like a plan…’ is not the same as seeing a specific, confirmed, related, final plan.
Informal conversation plays an important role in the workplace. Often unwittingly, at uncertain times, it can wind people up who were otherwise happy to await the big announcement and who weren’t stressed.
We all have a role to play in the ambiance and productivity in our work environment and a responsibility (a ‘duty of care’ perhaps) to each other.
When you next hear futile speculation – will you add to it or look out for how it could be damaging? Then, if it is damaging, how will you help to halt it?