This post addresses the two future challenges for organizations: stress and grapevine management. Changes in companies and organizations, where one of them will be shown as an example in M company, create a strong role of informal communication network as well as stress-related situations. Effective managers should pay attention and significance not only to carrying out results in selling and making profit, but also to focus upon humans, open formal communications, performing organizational culture and atmosphere for smoothing stress. Also they have to use the grapevine as supplement communication channel wherever and whenever they can.
The M organization was focused on the expenses and production volume as the factors of success for ten years. All the inherited employees (about 150) and managers (executive manager; commercial, finance, production, export-import, transport and purchasing manager) have kept their positions from the very moment of ownership change occurred. They are much disciplined, good in keeping administration and hard-working but with bad internal communication. The goal was to keep them, due to the company’s long term success, well-experienced and familiar with production, customers and suppliers.
The M companies’ new six managers had a habit to chat and pass the information during everyday coffee break in the office of quality-control manager. One day at the same break, the quality-control manager, a man, came in with the outbreak news that the new general manager would be put on that post from October. He knew that the potential candidates were two guys from his previous company. One of the potential guys from the rumour was officially promoted two weeks later. A lot of very important M companies’ news and information continually break out through this informal communication network.
Scenarios such shown in the Case I are inevitable part of employees’ relationship in every enterprise. “The network helps employees make sense of the world around them and consequently provides a release from emotional stress and all informal information is undocumented”. (Davis, one of the leading authors on the subject, 1971; Mishra 1990)
There are two communication networks, formal and informal, among individuals. “The formal system provides information regarding the organization to the employees through different media. The formal network, made up of memos, reports, staff-meetings, conferences, company-newsletters, official notices, is highly documented and such has very little chance for change” (Mishra, 1990, p. 214). The major informal communication in an organization is the grapevine. Davis (1971) stated “…the grapevine is natural part of company’s total communication system… it is a significant force within the work group, helping to build teamwork motivate people, and create corporate identity.” Almost all the information within the grapevine is undocumented, open to change, interpreted as it moves through the network, fast moves.
The grapevine helps people to satisfy a natural need and desire to know what is really going on and gives employees a sense of belonging. It is played by rumour and gossip. Michelson and Mouly (2000) concluded that there is “…more in common between rumour and gossip to construct a unified interpretation.” “For this reason the terms “rumour” and “gossip” are used interchangeably and are taken to mean “informal communication transmitted to another person to persons, irrespective of weather or not the communication has been established as fact” (p.341).
One study carried out by De Mare identified that 70% of all communication in organizations goes through the grapevine (Crampton et al, 1998). Other researchers show that the grapevine is accurate and pass messages faster than formal communication network. The accuracy rates range is estimated from 75 to 90%. Even the high percentage of grapevine message is truthful; the missing last 10% is often the most important part of the essential of truth.
The grapevine, as expression of employees’ natural motivation to pass the information, is a changeable, dynamic, fast and varied as people are. “It is jumps from department to another and from any level of management to another”, cited by Mishra (1990). The grapevine fast moves upwards, downwards, horizontally, vertically and diagonally, within and without chains of command, between workers and managers, and even with or without a company and it is continually activity.
Since the grapevine arises from social interaction, it is the exercise of employees’ freedom of speech and natural normal activity. It starts in the car, at parking lots, when everyone has arrived at work, it takes place around corners, in meetings, offices and especially by the coffee machine, during the breaks and lunch hours, it continues after work time at the local bar, or at the companies’ sports and relaxing pools.
1) during times of uncertainty,
2) when the subject matter is important
3) in an insecure environment where formal communication is poor or lacking, and
4) when the subject matter is ambiguous.
The grapevine formula, their study developed and adds two factors, is simple and incorporated prior research conducted by Allport G. (Mishra, 1990; Crampton et al, 2000). Allport (1947) described two conditions as controlling activeness of the grapevine and suggested that the intensity of a rumour (R) is determined by the importance of the subject to the speaker or listener (I) and by the ambiguousness of the facts (A). The relation between this two is given by following formula: R=IA.
This formula means that rumours grow and spread along the grapevine in direct proportion to the importance of the subject to the person and the lack of fact to the topic issue.
Crampton et al (2000) findings showed that the intensity of rumour/grapevine (R/G) is determined by four factors:
1) breakdown of formal communication (CB)
2) uncertainty (U)
3) importance of the information (I)
4) ambiguity (A).
The relation is as follows:
They stated that the environment and the organizational culture are also important indicators of the increasing the grapevine activity.
Studies suggest four categories of rumour (Mishra,1990; Michelson and Mouly,2000). The first of these “pipe dream” or wish fulfillment expresses the hopes of those who circulate it and it is the most positive. It often helps to stimulate the creativity of others as well as the solution to work problem. The second category is that of anxiety or bogie rumour. It is driven by employees’ fear and anxiety. The third type of rumour is “wedge drivers” or “aggressive rumour”. It tends to demeaning to a company or individual and tending to cause disagreement. The final type is “Home stretchers” or the anticipatory rumour. It is participated by the situation of ambiguity or by missing for a formal announcement. The Case I illustrates the “home stretchers”.
Michelson and Mouly’s (2000) research uncovered “…that despite the commonly-held and entrenched view that women are largely responsible for instigating and perpetuating organizational rumour and gossip, a review of the evidence fails to support this claim” (p.339).
According to Davis (1971) and Mishra (1990) there are four different chains/structures of the grapevine network:
- The Single Strand Channel-“Each person passes the information to the next person.”
- The Gossip Chain-“A simply tells everyone with whom they come in contact.”
- The Probability Chain-“In this case A makes random contact with F and C and passes the information”
- The Cluster Chain-“Here A tells contacts, B and F, who make work with A. “
The key members in the grapevine activity are: the first Bridge or Key Communicator (from whom rumour starts because he is both receiver and passer of the information. In the Case I it is the control-quality manager), the second Bagger or Dead Enders (they are privileged to hear but never pass the rumour), and the Beaners or Isolate (the outsider of the grapevine) (Mishra, 1990).
According to all studies (Monczeka et al,1973; Mishra, 1990; Crampton et al, 1998) the grapevine has a lot of positive aspects in an organization:
1) it can be useful as supplementing formal channels of communication
2) it can carry the useful information with amazing speed
3) satisfy a natural desire to know what is going on
4) it can be used as early warning system as it in the Case I
5) direct communication line between people
6) it is a release mechanism for stress
7) a good converter of official company policies into employee’s jargon
8) the grapevine is a good indicator of health, morale, trends and productivity.
Monczeka et al (1973) in their study of management and white-collar employee perceptions of the grapevine found that it was viewed as an influential, but negative factor in the organizations communication networks. Despite that the rumour is the fact of life in all organizations. It has to be accepted as reality in the communication process and managers must recognize and accept the existence of the grapevine. Managers has to identify their and as well as their subordinates’ perceptions of both grapevine’s value and influence. The managers have an obligation to investigate the reasons of the employees’ perceptions of the grapevine. “They have to develop the ability to adapt to the presence of the grapevine”, (p.20) cite by Monczeka et al (1973).
Management has to use the proactive strategies to benefit from the positive aspects of the grapevine. It has to make the stable working environment, to make climate of trust, and supplies its subordinates with clear, steady, timely and accurate information. Managers have to respect the subordinates need to know what is going on in the organization and to understand its issue. They have to motivate employees to take an active role in communication meetings. The most successful organizational communications are these which are planned and never leave employees confused and frustrated. Effective managers need to supply their employees with both good and bad information. They have to correct false information concerning organizational policies, practices, and the future general plans. Managers have to make the regular evaluations system to assess the organizations’ communication effectiveness. (Mishra, 1990; Crampton et al, 1998)
The M company’s climate with a lot of changes and uncertainty is really fruitfully ground to increase the grapevine activity. Since that the company’s managers have to achieve organizational goals with satisfied subordinates respected their human and social needs and desires. They have to learn that open and health communication among employees and keeping them well-informed continually are the good way to make better business results and company’s climate. It is inevitable important for the new general manager to recognize that informal communication network is often used as the only company’s information resource of truth and news. He has to avoid the situation where the organizational communication too heavily depended on the grapevine, because it can lead to confusion and emotional hysteria.