HR CaseStudy:- When Grapevines are Good (Gossip’s @ Workplaces)

3 Dec

Gossip, just like social media, is an exchange of information between two or more people typically about a third, absent party. Managers may view their lack of control in such a democratic environment as a threat. Instead, they should look at the positive powers of gossip as a tool to diagnose or influence workforce issues.
 
Call it whatever you like, the grapevine, water cooler, gossip or the rumor mill. Conversations among co-workers happen. As human beings, we are social creatures who crave community, engagement and interaction.
 
Whether it’s talking shop about the boss, layoff rumors after a less-than-satisfying quarterly earnings report or gossip about Susie in Accounting and her supposed office extra-curriculars, conversations among co-workers are a guarantee.
 
Management has battled with gossip and the grapevine since the beginning of time. Supervisors are quick to lay blame to wildfire rumors, half truths and innuendos at the office as being detrimental to workplace productivity and undermining management authority. However, a recent study by two doctoral candidates at the University of Kentucky sheds some light on the positive power of gossip in the workplace.
 
Some Points to Ponder:
 
1. Gossip improves an employee’s social understanding of his or her environment.
This concept is the basis of cultural anthropology and the concept of micro-cultures. Workplace cultures are no different.
 
2. Gossip is natural.
According to the University of Kentucky study, 96 percent of employees admit to engaging in gossip at work.
 
3. It’s not all negative.
Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of gossip was an even blend of both positive and negative. Only 7 percent of gossip was largely negative.
 
4. Negative gossip
Negative gossip is a symptom of a larger organizational problem.
Just like a fever or runny nose alerts an individual to an infection, negative gossip is no different.
 
5. Perception is Reality.
Prior to the written word, the grapevine was a form of historical storytelling and news distribution. Sometimes, the spoken word is more reliable than the written word in the workplace. Visit any break room or smoking section as a covert HR operation and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
 
Just as social media is about engagement and influence outside of a brand’s scope of control, so, too, is the workplace grapevine outside of a manager’s control. Gossip, just like social media, is an exchange of information between two or more people typically about a third, absent party.
 
And managers view their lack of control and that democratic environment as a threat, instead of a tool or channel in which to diagnose or influence a situation or scenario. There is no silver bullet to managing gossip in the workplace or via the Internet. One size does not fit all, but here is some food for thought:
 
1. Conversations require at least two people.
Managers should be talking to their teams just as companies should be talking to their customers. After all, employees are our biggest asset and advocate for our companies and brands.
 
2. Don’t bribe or threaten the workforce.
Just as in branding, you must be authentic. People are smart, cynical and suspicious. Have conversations, mean what you say and keep your promises.
 
3. Don’t be afraid of the negative.
Hearing negative feedback about our style as a manager is hard, but if we fail to listen to our audience (our consumers), we risk feeding the best.
 
With the Internet, nothing is secure. Your team is not only gossiping at work but also on social-media platforms and forums, not just Facebook. Glassdoor.com and forums on Indeed.com are common sites where employees go to let off steam squarely within the public eye and with open access.
 
4. Survey the troops.
If you don’t already, facilitate an employee-engagement survey. Use tools such as exit interviews and other employee surveys for feedback. It doesn’t have to cost anything; they can be created for free by using online tools such as Survey Monkey.
 
For thousands of years, the workplace grapevine has been a social and cultural case study in action. Rumor mills, shared assumptions and opinions have long been a part of what makes our place of work interesting, enjoyable, intolerable or entertaining.
 
Social-media experts are quick to segment the social audience when working on marketing or public-relations campaigns. Managers and human resource professionals should do the same.
 
In Groundswell, authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff identify six groups who can be found in social media. While these profiles were created for social-media purposes, I believe they can be used in a workplace context.
 
The profiles can help identify the different types of workplace influencers and their involvement in what makes the community flow and how thoughts and ideas are influenced.
 
a) Creators.
These individuals are extremely socially active and are enthusiastic about their hobbies, passions, dislikes or love of a product, brand, company or service.
 
They are connected and have an established and strong community, and are seen as an authority because of their extensive research and ability to vet information to others.
 
b) Critics.
These individuals are extremely vocal and use either online or word-of-mouth to rate and critique products and services.
 
These individuals can be your best allies, especially if you have a great customer-service department, stellar management team or new program you are rolling out to the staff. Don’t be misled by word “critic” as having a negative connotation. These team members can be an evangelist for your organization and culture.
 
c) Collectors.
These individuals have a great deal of influence and can generate a great deal of chatter in a short amount of time because of their extensive network and passion for sharing information.
 
These team members focus on collecting information and content for sharing with other members of their active community.
 
d) Joiners.
These individuals want to feel like they belong to something. If online, they are very active on community sites like Facebook and are extremely engaged in places that involve a sense of community such as churches and professional organizations.
 
Their ability to connect with many individuals and persons is a draw for team members. They often join for the sake of joining — to belong.
 
e) Spectators.
These individuals love to sit back, watch and enjoy taking in the environment and situation to soak up all information.
 
Online, these individuals are focused on using ratings and reviews to draw conclusions. Don’t be surprised if they use these same methods of surveying and gathering data when engaging and influencing your organization.
 
f) Inactives.
These are those individuals who are present and listening but not participating and engaging. They have one ear to the wall but have not made an effort to actively participate within the organization or culture. Just as they would do online.
 
 
[About the Author: Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker and consultant. She is a leader in the HR social-media community and her book, Tweet This! Twitter for Business, was released in February. Her company, Xceptional HR provides businesses with social-media and recruitment strategies, and human resources consulting.]

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2 Responses to “HR CaseStudy:- When Grapevines are Good (Gossip’s @ Workplaces)”

  1. namrata2010 December 3, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    Good One

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