The dictionary gives us a definition for the grapevine which says it is "the informal transmission of information, gossip or rumor from person to person" The grapevine is the informal and unsanctioned information network within every organization.
Since it is unstructured and not under complete control of management, it moves through the organization in every direction. It moves upward, downward, and diagonally, within and without chains of command, between workers and managers.
The grapevine does have its uses. Grapevine communication can carry useful information through the organization with amazing speed. The grapevine is very useful in supplementing formal channels. It provides people with an outlet for their imaginations and apprehensions as well. It also helps satisfy a natural desire to know what is really going on and gives employees a sense of belonging. As an early warning system, gossip allows people to think through in advance what they will do if the rumors become the awful truth. Subordinates may get an idea of what the boss is wrestling with and may have some suggestions which may help the situation.
Knowing the factors that make up grapevine chatter – lack of enough information, impact on individuals, and insecurity – we can proactively intervene with frequent and effective communication. We can fill information voids with accurate information before rumors materialize. Proactively communicate when breaking news is expected.
When information (such as impending mergers and acquisitions) is about to be communicated, it helps to be prepared and react quickly after the message is released. When communicating change initiatives, ensure that you communicate the impact of the change on the individual.
Because of the speedy transfer of information, the grapevine enables individuals to prepare for and think through management's goal changes and goal adjustment in advance of any formal statements. This increases the contributions of employees. The grapevine also helps employees to remain efficient by quickly spreading the news of disciplinary action. If tardiness is a problem and one person is given a day off without pay, will management be able to remind everyone immediately of company policy? Probably not… Will a memo from the Personnel Department reach everyone that same day? That isn't likely to happen either. However, will the grapevine make sure everyone's at work on time the next day? Oh, yes! Certainly!!
Additionally, the grapevine is a good indicator of health, morale, trends, and productivity. The grapevine reveals issues and problems being discussed by the employees; the effect of policies and procedures upon which the employees can be measured. Managers should have some means of tapping into the grapevine. The grapevine is also a means of communication which a manager can use for efficiency. Via this method, desired information can be circulated quickly to a large group of subordinates. Control of the grapevine is an understated responsibility of the manager.
Some organizations create a rumor hotline or rumor control office. When an employee hears a rumor he can call the rumor office to check it out. By providing this service, bad rumors can be replaced with good rumors. Good rumors, such as "I asked about that and was told it wasn't so," move just as quickly through the grapevine as bad ones, and can increase morale, help build teamwork, and increase motivation.
Dealing effectively with the grapevine is a challenge that will always be a part of a manager's job. Those who are able to understand the power of the grapevine will be better prepared to utilize it to provide stability and credibility in the work environment that is needed in order to achieve organizational goals.