Loose lips tighten with age, as baby boomers who now keep quiet and respect authority have learned. Younger people have grown up in an era of readily accessible information that is shared immediately. Since younger, less experienced people do not recognize the need to safeguard company and personal information; employers must clarify their expectations of confidentiality.
Strategic information leaks can destroy a business. Protecting confidential information is vital, yet few businesses explain this to their employees.
Every company has an in the know person who uses information to start the rumors flying. The person may be at any level in the organization. Once identified, this culprit should be attacked with discipline. A rumor about the discipline will help establish a norm of increased respect. Without management intervention, this person is perceived as a powerful force.
Gossip about an individual’s personal life is potentially destructive and difficult to battle. People who spread real or exaggerated information about their co-worker’s personal challenges erode respect and fellowship in the workplace. Rarely does anyone admit to initiating such information and generally it is spread as a result of concern.
Combat this negative energy with guilt. A group that includes the victim of the gossip should be brought together by the manager. The victim should receive a public apology regarding the group’s conduct and its impact on the victim. The manager should establish an expectation that such hurtful rumors will not be tolerated.
The informant may be the most difficult type of person to manage. The informant runs to the boss with departmental performance issues. The informant disguised as a naïve do-gooder is often discrediting co-workers, to boost herself and favored co-workers. What makes this difficult is the need to remain open to those who bring information that may have serious consequences.
Mentor your mole about the position she is creating. Make her aware that she will not be trusted by her peers and will eventually be ostracized. Explain that she is not obligated to inform you of performance issues and that performance exposes itself. Also, explain that her behavior is negatively impacting the department’s performance and morale. Though the information may be an accurate assessment of the department; whatever you do, don’t use the information she has provided.
Fortunately, the Workplace Index Survey (WIS) states that the majority of the information spread regards company news, much of which is initiated by off-the- record conversations with a supervisor. Though damaging, this news may be the easiest to combat. Keep employees informed of how the company is doing and empower supervisors to communicate openly.
Establishing a company value of respect and integrity and communicating it through daily actions is the best defense.
What Can You Do?