Fixer: How should we confront rumours about our future?

Tongues are wagging across the company and it's making working life very difficult

I work for a large retail chain. There are a lot of rumours circling around about our finances and how sustainable the company is. It hasn’t reached a critical level yet – and I don’t know exactly how true it is. But it’s becoming very difficult to get things done. Lots of people are leaving. Others aren’t booking onto development programmes or filling vacant positions. Everyone is refusing to think long term. I know it’s a difficult situation and there are lots of considerations, but shouldn’t we address this all head on? There has been no official communication about anything.

You haven’t said much about your role. But as your last line alludes, this is a communication challenge. Hearsay and rumour are never to be relied on but, like weeds, they dominate the internal grapevine in the absence of hard information.

Short-termism isn’t, per se, an uncommon challenge. Given the volatility of market conditions, most organisations have brought forward their horizons. This could be a deliberate strategy for justifiable reasons.

But someone, somewhere has to take it upon themselves to point out the corrosive impact that the absence of structured, affirmative communication is having on the workforce. You can try any formal channels there may be for feeding back challenges to senior leaders or even approach your internal communications function, which often works closely with HR in partnership-minded organisations. 

Most of all, it sounds like someone needs to take the initiative. Why shouldn’t that someone be you? After all, what have you got to lose? Most leaders will value advice if it’s well intentioned and comes with suggestions that will potentially help, rather than exacerbate, a tough situation.