Rumors can be true, or based in fact or be completely fictitious. In any case, the more these stories are repeated, the more powerful they become. Some rumors linger on for years and become ghost stories.
Ghost stories, repeated over time are conveyed as if they are current. These stories can cause a great deal of harm to the individuals in starring roles, as well as the organization.
Ghost stories can shape your work environment even after the main characters leave the company. Repetition of the story hard wires our thinking about the person and the company that permitted the behavior.
A manager who did not report a serious incident twenty years ago may never rid the reputation. As the story grows, he may have caused the incident or swept all incidents under the rug. As a result, reporting incidents at work may be viewed as unnecessary or unwanted.
When negative stories about colleagues plague the organization, it causes people to feel insecure and performance to suffer. If employees believe the negatives rumors, it may demonstrate a disconnection with the organization’s values. If the employee doesn’t believe in the truth of the rumor, distrust in communication may spread.
Everyone will say they don’t like gossip. What most people mean is they don’t like rumors about themselves or people they like. People talk about people. It’s a way to connect and to learn whom to trust.
Evidence exists that our brains are wired to focus on negative stories about people. A study at Northeastern University, by Eric Anderson and Erika Siegel used binocular rivalry to demonstrate how gossip affects our brain. Binocular rivalry happens when a subject is shown a different image to each eye at the same time. The brain will mute one image to focus on the other. The brain may alternate, but cannot focus on both images at once or combine the images. The image of focus dominates one’s perception.
Anderson and Siegel told participants gossip about each person as they showed them a series of faces. The participants were told negative, positive and neutral stories. For instance, they showed a picture of a face and told the negative story about the individual throwing a chair at a classmate; in a positive example, helping an elderly woman with her groceries and the neutral example, passing this man on the street.
Participants focused on faces matched with positive and neutral stories equally. The participants focused on the faces paired with negative stories for a much longer period.
The researchers repeated the experiment, including non-social stories such as (negative) having a root canal, (positive) feeling the warmth of sunshine or (neutral) drawing curtains in the room. The result was the non- social stories received less attention than the negative story about the person who caused trouble, throwing the chair at the classmate.
Anderson and Siegel concluded, gossip teaches us whom to befriend, and whom to avoid without the time, pain and cost of learning firsthand. Our brain focuses on these stories as a defensive mechanism.
Our brains do not store abstract concepts as well as examples. Ghost stories are concrete and feel real. The more emotional impact the story has, the more hard wired it will become. Telling employees that gossip is harmful, it reduces our focus on productivity and may damage one’s reputation will have little if any impact. Telling employees about the manager who committed suicide as a result of a specific rumor may cause employees to pause before conveying the next ghost story.
Ghost stories open old wounds. Painful memories re-told cause us to feel the pain again. Many stories lie waiting to haunt us and awaken when change affects our status quo.
Medical Marijuana vs. Walmart
The MMMA, Michigan Medical Marijuana Act of 2008 states a qualifying patient shall not be denied any right or privilege, including but not limited to disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau, for the medical use of marijuana. An individual becomes a qualifying patient after receiving a registry identification card from the Michigan Department of Community Health. The Department issues cards to those who may use marijuana to treat or alleviate a qualifying patient’s debilitating medical condition or symptoms.
An employee of Wal-Mart, who was on the registry failed a post- accident drug test administered pursuant to Wal-Mart’s corporate drug testing policy. Joseph Casias was terminated from his employment and filed suit, arguing that his termination violated his rights under the MMMA.
Wal-Mart argued the MMMA only applies to state or local governmental agencies, and cannot regulate the employer-employee relationship in the private sector. The 6th Circuit agreed with Wal-Mart, stating the MMMA was not intended to alter “the general rule of at-will employment in Michigan” and affirmed the district court’s holding that “private employees are not protected from disciplinary action as a result of their use of medical marijuana.”
There are 18 states protecting the use of medical marijuana through legislation. Court challenges will continue to shape the effect these laws have on private employers.