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Rumor Has It That Gossip Is a Problem
Ann Geier
Publish Date: October 27, 2008   |  Tags:   Staffing

Why are surgery centers such breeding grounds for rumors? Maybe it's a by-product of the pressure-packed work done in close quarters. Or maybe because so many OR nurses like being the source of information on the center's performance or the latest hire. It might seem harmless enough, but the whispers and snide comments can erode staff morale. I've worked with a facility that was brought to its knees by a false report relayed to a surgeon about the staff's dissatisfaction with the administrator. Here are four ways to nip rumors in the bud before they take on lives of their own in your center.

Post an answer. Create a gossip board to address staff concerns. Hang the board in an area frequented by staff but out of public view. Tell your employees that they can post any and all questions anonymously and that you'll answer each question within 48 hours of its posting.

In most cases you can tack your reply next to the original submission. You can answer "Will the center close early for a staff Halloween party?" with "Yes, the last scheduled case will begin at 1 p.m." Questions about sensitive issues require a face-to-face explanation. An appropriate response to "Has the center been sold and, if so, will there be layoffs?" would be a posting on the board to let everyone know where and when a staff meeting will take place to discuss the rumored sale.

Talk about it. Dedicate a few minutes during staff meetings to debunk rumors and gossip. Open the floor to the staff. Tell them they can bring their concerns to the meetings or ask for clarification about what they've heard in the hall. Volunteers may be lacking when you first institute the policy but you'll find the number of questions will increase when staff see that you'll address their concerns openly and honestly.

If you know of a rumor that needs to be discredited, address it with an offhanded remark: "Oh, I heard that we're looking to buy out Dr. Zeitz. Just to put everyone's minds at ease, there's absolutely no truth to that rumor." You might see some red faces and a squirm or two, but your staff will be put on notice that the administration is aware of rumors. Even if the person who started the gossip isn't known, the guilty party might think she's been exposed. Either way, she'll think twice before spreading another story if she sees that it might end up as staff meeting fodder.

Empower your employees. A nurse ate her lunch in the locker room each day so she didn't have to listen to a group that used the staff lounge as a forum to degrade other employees. Mandate that the lounge be a place for positive talk and ask employees to state simply "I don't feel comfortable with what's being discussed" if the conversation turns sour. A single chronic griper can affect all within earshot. In most cases, the entire audience is just as uncomfortable as the one person who speaks up. Ask an employee with a strong personality to take the lead in talking down fountains of negativity. Others will follow.

Keep ?em busy. Show me an employee who has the time to spread rumors and I'll show you a worker who's wasting your time and your dime. If you identify a Chatty Cathy, give her more to do or send her home when she's done working.

Out in the open
Ignoring gossip lets it fester into more than the little grain of truth that began it. Remember that the best way to deal with rumors and the people who start them is to meet the issue head on.