4 Keys to Combating Change Rumors at Work

4 Keys to Combating Change Rumors at Work
Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

Combating Change Rumors Can Be Exhausting
When organizational change is unclear, poorly communicated, misaligned, or mismanaged, combating change rumors can be exhausting.  One thing we know for sure from change management training and consulting experts is that personal and professional change is difficult.  Success requires determination, grit, and commitment.

The Power of the Status Quo
Employees tend to hang on to what they know.  They often resist change out of fear of failure or incorrect assumptions about adjusting to the newly desired behaviors or circumstances. And what allows these fears to take hold and sabotage many change initiatives?

The Unknown and the Unclear Are Your Enemy
Often it is ugly and inaccurate rumors that are allowed to circulate and reinforce the negative emotions.  We define change rumors as unverified information (not opinions) that are in circulation among your key stakeholders that answer significant questions that people want answered.  Rumors basically fill in the gaps and help people understand an unclear situation.

And when it comes to change rumors, the information is almost always negative.

Just as these kids with tin cans will have to learn to be really clear with their communications if they want to be fully understood, so do business leaders need to learn how to manage communications if they want their change plans to be fully implemented.

Unfortunately when it comes to major organizational change, rumors begin almost immediately after (if not before) the change is announced. From person to person, unverified but compelling statements are passed along. And the untruths build as worker’s fears and insecurities grow. Employees naturally worry about how the change will negatively affect them.

  • Will I lose my job?
  • Is the company going under?
  • Will my job become harder? or less fulfilling?
  • Will I be able to switch to a new way of doing things without losing status or pay?

4 Keys to Combating Rumors at Work
When it comes to effectively managing organizational change, it is critical to stop unsubstantiated rumors in their tracks. Based upon change management simulation data, here are four keys to combating workplace rumors effectively and giving your change program a chance:

  1. Say It Clearly, Consistently, Repeatedly and Confidently
    People spread rumors during change when there is uncertainty. Make sure your  vision about organizational change and all change messaging is understood by all. And make sure they hear it and have an opportunity to discuss it again and again.

    It will take time for it to sink in and for employees to adjust to the proposed new way. They will want to know the rationale for the change, be persuaded that it is in their best interests and think through just how they are going to fit in.

  2. Never Shirk Questions
    People spread rumors during change when they feel anxiety. Oftentimes uncertainty (see #1 above) raises anxiety.  And anxious people tend to create and spread rumors as they try to make sense of the change and what it means to them and their future.

    Be sure as business leader that you and your frontline managers are available to answer questions about the organizational change. Be open and honest in your replies. If you don’t know the answer, say so.

    Tell people what you know, what you do not know and when you will be able to fill in the gaps.  As much as you expect the change to be for the better, acknowledge that there is always some uncertainty to the future.

    If you dodge questions from stakeholders, they will most likely fill in the blanks with unhelpful rumors.

  3. Provide the Facts as You Know Them
    People spread rumors during change when the available information is fuzzy and the potential impact of the change is important. Provide all relevant facts (hopefully based upon a solid current state analysis) that prove the rumors are untrue. Find out who is spreading the rumors and, if you can, why.

    We know about fear and anxiety around change being a cause. But some people spread rumors for other reasons too — they simply believe the rumor or it helps their self-image or status within the company.

    When you can share the facts that prove the rumor wrong, you may have found an ally who can influence employees in a more positive direction.

  4. Get Ahead of “False Facts”
    A well-planned change initiative can include a way for affected employees to check the facts right from the start. Rather than let whispers and social media propel false information, use your intranet to be a source of the real facts. Provide a resource for employees to research a rumor before passing it on.

The Bottom Line
Effective change management relies to a great degree upon managing the communication around change. Anticipate rumors and be ready to counter them in a straightforward manner with the facts.

To learn more about organizational change, download The 5 New Lenses of Change Leadership that You Cannot Afford to Underestimate

Evaluate your Performance


Get key strategy, culture, and talent tools from industry experts that work


Health Checks

Assess how you stack up against leading organizations in areas matter most



Download published articles from experts to stay ahead of the competition



Review proven research-backed approaches to get aligned



Stay up to do date on the latest best practices that drive higher performance


Client Case Studies

Explore real world results for clients like you striving to create higher performance