Allowing the grapevine to strangle the flow of information from management to employees is detrimental to morale. However, a properly cultivated grapevine can actually enhance a company's employee communications.
Many bosses underestimate the power of the grapevine, according to Randstad's 2003 Employee Review, a national survey of employees and employers conducted by RoperASW. While nearly half of all employees surveyed (46 percent) say they first hear about major changes at work through the grapevine, only 17 percent of employers think that's where their workers get information.
Both employees and management agree on the detrimental impact of the grapevine.
Seventy-five percent of employees and 66 percent of employers say the grapevine spreads negative information. Forty-six percent of employees and 59 percent of employers say it is mostly inaccurate, and a majority agree that it's a distraction (64 percent of employees, 71 percent of employers).
Additionally, when employees have to rely on the grapevine for information, it makes them feel unimportant and undermines morale. The survey found that 75 percent of employees who say morale at their company is excellent or good hear about changes at work from the boss first; only 38 percent of employees who hear things first from the grapevine say employee morale is high.
While the grapevine can be destructive, a well-nourished network of information can enhance employee communications. Identifying workplace opinion leaders and keeping them in the loop can help improve the accuracy and tenor of water cooler discussions.
Workplace opinion leaders tend to be more visible and vocal than most employees. Ninety-seven percent speak up at meetings; of those not deemed opinion leaders, only 70 percent are likely to offer opinions. They regularly talk to people throughout the company about what's going on (95 percent compared to 74 percent), and mentor other employees (91 percent to only 57 percent).
Those in the prime of their careers are more likely to be considered opinion leaders. Thirty-three percent of Gen X employees (ages 24 to 38) and 35 percent of baby boomers (ages 39 to 58) exhibit traits of an opinion leader, compared to 17 percent of Gen Yers (ages 18 to 24) and 22 percent of mature employees (ages 58 and older).
Winning workplace opinion leaders to management's side doesn't have to be difficult, since 55 percent say they have a lot of confidence in the information they receive from management, and 77 percent say they're loyal to their employers.
Find workplace opinion leaders and give them straight, honest information. Make this a part of your overall employee communications plan; it will help improve morale and can lead to a more effective, focused work force.
Gail Auerbach (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Randstad North America's managing director of human resources. She is responsible for recruitment and retention of the company's more than 2,000 employees in more than 500 locations in the United States and Canada. The fourth annual Randstad Employee Review is based on findings from 2,826 in-depth telephone interviews, making it the nation's most extensive employee attitude survey. For more information, visit www.us.randstad.com.