Rumors, idle gossip and untrue stories may sometimes seem harmless, but they can have a profound and lasting effect on businesses.

A big mistake companies make when hearing about workplace rumors is hoping that they fizzle out on their own. Sometimes they do, but many times rumors just get worse.

It doesn’t matter whether you have five or 500 employees, workplace rumors are damaging to morale, productivity and your bottom line. We’ve seen everything from rumors about the sale of a company to impending layoffs – all false – have this effect.

To take control of the situation, business leaders must take control of the communication to disseminate a positive – and true – narrative. This can be done through a robust reputation management and employee communication program.

Here are a few tips that can guide the process.

1. Address workplace rumors head on

Develop clear, concise messages that directly address and refute the false workplace rumors. Don’t skirt around the issue!

Then showcase the positive aspects of the business, as appropriate, including nods to growth, employee investment and development, and future outlook.

And who better to deliver these messages of positivity and empowerment? The CEO, of course.

2. Get in front of the frontlines

As a CEO, you are often removed from the day-to-day interactions that senior managers have with employees. Therefore, it is critical to quickly address workplace rumors and deliver your messages to the people who can serve as your mouthpiece to the company.

Call a meeting with your frontline, provide clear guidance on how they can address rumors should they catch wind of anything, and request that they notify you if the rumors stay persistent or new issues arise.

After all, there may be other rumblings that you weren’t even aware of, so opening the two-way communication will allow another outlet to ensure a happy and informed workforce.

3. Speak directly with the employees

After your messages and vision are aligned with your managers, it is also important to have face time with the employees to dispel the falsities and promote a positive environment. Call a company meeting, blast it out via email, or draft a note for the employee newsletter.

In a perfect world, you can disseminate positive, impactful messages in an informal and celebratory environment, like a company holiday party or quarterly dinner. Creating supporting content, such as a video, is also a great way to really drive home a positive message.

4. Assess the reach of workplace rumors

Review and assess the potential negative impact and reach these rumors could have on your business partners, vendors or other important outside parties.

Have your external partners approached you regarding the rumors? If so, it’s important to drive your positive narrative in their direction as well. Given the time of year, a 2017 outlook e-blast with your messages on growth, as well as your business strategy, is a great way to communicate.

If a rumor’s reach is far and wide and there’s potential for it to get to the media, we always advise clients to create a full communication blueprint that includes key messages, suggested soundbites for executives, an elevator speech, and a Q&A document.

This way, everyone is speaking in one voice. Additionally, a communication chain needs to be in place – where should employees send media inquiries? Who is the point person? Who is monitoring for coverage with social and traditional media?

5. Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce

An important tenet of a strong reputation management and employee communications program is continuous reinforcement of positive messages. Do not just communicate once and then call it a day.

Develop an ongoing communications program that demonstrates transparency and builds a stronger relationship with your team.

One example would be to include a personalized CEO letter in every employee newsletter, providing information on the successes of the business and its people.

After all, the most valuable asset of any company is its employees, and the key to a happy workplace is strong communication and transparency from the top down.

Photo by Jennifer Moo, used under CC BY / Cropped from original