Silent whispers, loud impact: Handling hearsay complaints

BD Gossip

In office corridors, hearsay complaints are like wildfire.

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In office corridors, hearsay complaints are like wildfire- quick to spread and capable of causing extensive damage before the truth has a chance to surface.

As they circulate through the veins of workplace gossip, their power to influence perceptions and decisions can be profound. These off-the-record remarks can mutate into serious accusations, turning workplaces into battlegrounds of rumour and suspicion.

Last week, for instance, a social media user wrote, "Our office manager of 8 years was let go and the new office manager has been with us for less than three months in which they have repeatedly refused to do their job which directly impacts mine."

While the user admitted to having a conversation with the head of HR about the situation, the new manager would later make accusations of being disparaged.

"She claimed that I had made belittling comments about her to others in an email which has multiple people copied on it. I responded professionally to the accusations," he wrote.

Verbal reprimand

However, the new manager is still not performing in her role.

"Since her inefficiency impacts my position, I have just gone around her to get my tasks accomplished. In doing so, she has been verbally reprimanded by others. This occurred again and after the reprimand, I was pulled into a meeting with her and a Human Resource (HR) representative."

"The meeting consisted of them stating that they have heard from numerous sources that I was speaking badly of her and they would not tolerate it. I asked repeatedly if I had ever personally said or done anything disrespectful to them which they replied 'no' but they 'heard' from third parties."

The genesis

Vanice Olal, a HR Professional, says that these hearsay complaints often start off as a rumour, a misinterpretation of an observation, or something overheard. It can be on an individual or organisation.

For instance, Ms Olal recalls that recently while working in a revenue generation organisation, there was a looming redundancy and as protocol dictates, she was called in a meeting with management.

"The next thing I encountered was an employee calling me to ask how safe they were in the organisation. So, I called for a staff meeting and explained to all employees the situation and assured them that no one is going home but, in the event, one goes home, we will follow the labour rules," she says.

Ripple effects

Ms Olal explains that the impact of these second-hand statements includes a loss of trust and confidence within the organisation, which can, in turn, affect productivity. Additionally, individuals may lose their jobs/ resign if the rumour was defamatory or if it wasn't the first instance of them spreading gossip.

"It can also affect an employee's mental health and even breed low self-esteem," she adds.

Dickson Chahenza, a HR Transformation Expert, weighs in, saying that an organisation that entertains hearsay likely lacks proper channels for addressing grievances and issues cropping up within the workplace.

As a result, employees feel they do not have a safe space to air their thoughts and feedback to those in management for fear of retribution.

"Some can even choose to sue hence affecting an organisation's reputation and profits."

The solution

Mr Chahenza points out that it is important for companies to strive to eliminate hearsay by informing employees that such statements are not only unreliable but also inadmissible in courts. This can be achieved by ensuring clear communication, grievance handling, and investigative policies within the workplace.

"If employees are hesitant to come forward, a whistleblower mechanism can be incorporated. The rule of thumb is sharing the findings of the investigations and giving each party the right to reply on every accusation raised against them," he adds.

Open house sessions could also be had depending on the level and magnitude of the hearsay to either an employee or the organisation in general.

Nonetheless, to avoid lawsuits being slapped on you, Mr Chahenza advises addressing critical issues related to the originality and authenticity of the information.

He poses key questions: 'How sound is the hearsay evidence? What is the nature of the hearsay? And what serves the best interest of justice?'

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