HR Headaches: Stopping Rumors About Layoffs and Cutbacks

If you’re hearing water cooler rumors about layoffs or cutbacks at your organization, here’s how to nip them in the bud.

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When a wave of layoffs quickly followed the COVID-19 pandemic, most people have been fretting about their job in one way or another ever since — and where there’s worry there’s also often rumors.

“Gossiping about potential layoffs … gives anxious employees a way to vent about their fears and frustrations — and even bond over them,” writes Michelle Goodman for ABC News. It’s understandable why rumors start, but the damage they can do — getting in the way of everything from day-to-day productivity to overall employee satisfaction — is why rumors need to be nipped in the bud.

Perhaps this is a problem you’ve been dealing with at your workplace for a while and it’s just been amplified by the pandemic. Or this is a new issue that’s throwing you for a loop. Whatever the case may be, there are a few things you can do to put a stop to water cooler rumors about cutbacks and layoffs.

Transparency is the antidote to rumors

It’s likely impossible that you’re going to squash rumors around cutbacks and layoffs entirely — it’s normal for people to worry about the viability of their employment situation. But transparency can go a long way.

Rumors propagate in a void of authoritative information that people can trust, so the more you provide it the less chances there will be for people to fill the void with rumors and inaccuracies.

This can come in a few different forms from direct communication with leadership, in the form of all hands meetings or company-wide emails. Or it can be something you can disseminate through management and other leadership channels. Whichever way you take, remember that it’s not about convincing someone that rumors are false — but to provide factual information to counter them. Some examples are positive sales reports or the work that leadership is doing to avoid layoffs at all costs.

Remember that it’s not about convincing someone that rumors are false — but to provide factual information to counter them.

Transparency can also include sharing information like what severance packages will look like should layoffs occur. Much of what makes rumors compelling is that they seem to offer information on an unpredictable situation, so the more information you can share to demystify everything, the better.

Last, make sure that your managers and leaders take an open door approach to questions and concerns from their employees. Perhaps the rumors aren’t so much a result of a lack of information or a desire to gossip, but the lack of accessible resources for getting answers to the concerns that employees will naturally have during the consistently tumultuous pandemic.

Address gossiping in your employee handbook

Another way that you can deal with rumors about cutbacks and layoffs is to address the close cousin of rumors — company gossip — in your employee handbook. This gives you the opportunity to clearly outline everything, from why you want to deter rumors (they’re bad for morale!) to how you will handle repeat offenses at the company.

Not only does this make expectations around spreading rumors clear from the very beginning, it can help reduce the likelihood of them occurring in the first place. Make it crystal clear to everyone from day one that the company doesn’t tolerate that behavior in the office.

Take direct action if you have repeat offenders

Whether it’s bad habits, a desire for attention, or something entirely different, there are simply some people who are prone to latching onto half-truths and spreading them like wildfire.

Like most behavioral corrections, start by explaining why the behavior is problematic and work to coach the employee through improving. Maybe this means working with the person to get them to go to their manager with information that may or may not be true to verify it first before sharing it. Perhaps the deeper issue is that the employee is bored and needs more projects or development opportunities to keep them busy with work — and away from the rumor mill.

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