Fake News: In the Workplace We Call It Gossip. Here’s How to Stop It.

Fake news is a kind of yellow journalism that’s used to convince people of things that aren’t true or are partially true (even more insidious). It’s been around in one form or another, starting in the late 1800’s in a New York newspaper circulation battle between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. Fake news has continued to this day in publications like the National Enquirer  and Weekly World News, staples at the supermarket checkout counter.

But with social networking it’s really taken off. Fake news routinely goes viral, with millions of people seeing it within days or hours, amplifying its impact like never before.

It’s nothing new in the news media, and it’s not new in the workplace either. Fake news in the workplace, aka malicious gossip, is typically constructed by taking a piece of true information, slanting it a negative way, then passing it on. It too can go viral, particularly now that virtually all employees have a smartphone.

Workplace gossip is damaging to employees. According to a SHRM article on the subject, it can cause problems like:

• Erosion of trust and morale.
• Lost productivity and wasted time.
• Increased anxiety among employees as rumors circulate without clear information as to what is and isn’t fact.
• Divisiveness among employees as people take sides.
• Hurt feelings and reputations.
• Attrition due to good employees leaving the company because of an unhealthy work environment.

This makes it very important to have real news feeds available that employees know and trust. We can break this down into two parts – the medium and the message.

The mediums of communication probably exist already in your workplace, such as company email, bulletin boards and digital signage. More important is the messaging. Rumors and gossip thrive in an environment starved for facts, so the first step is providing regular feeds of information that employees can count on as genuine. Some examples:

• Status updates on the health of the company, whether good or bad. Publishing these will generate credibility and trust.
• Daily, weekly or monthly KPIs such as production and safety information.
• Regular reporting of the company’s progress towards longer-term goals such as annual revenues.
• Trends affecting the company or industry that will help keep employees more connected.

Keep fake news out of your workplace for a smoother running, more profitable experience.

Frank Kenna III
September 22, 2017

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