Most of us enjoy the usual office chat with our colleagues during lunch hours, coffee breaks, or a quick catch-up next to the water cooler. For instance, the moment you hear about a new policy in the employee handbook, you can’t wait to discuss it with your teammates about what it’s going to be, the reason behind including it, and whatnot. This form of informal workplace dialogue is called Grapevine Communication.
This communication is identified by conversations between employees, and it does not follow a predefined structure or set of rules. Though informal in nature, it is important to understand that these conversations can have an impact on workplace interactions. Here’s how.
1. What is Grapevine Communication?
Grapevine communication is the casual or colloquial exchange between co-workers at a workplace. It does not follow a rule-based system, and the information spreads in a rapid manner linking many people in the organization at once. The level of socializing and personal interactions between employees determines the reach and frequency of grapevine communication.
Conversations at the workplace are not always formal. It is a human tendency to communicate with peers about the daily business and discuss their work in an unfiltered way, as opposed to conferencing with the senior management. It can be vertical (manager to employee and vice versa), horizontal (employee to employee), or diagonal (employees and managers at different levels). Naturally, this type of communication is inevitable and can have its own upsides and downsides in an organization.
2. The Importance of Grapevine Communication
2.1 Fuelled by employee emotion
Due to the dynamic nature and culture of the workplace, employees tend to gather and discuss even the slightest of changes in their usual business and its impact on their work – such as daily procedures, superiors, policies, layoffs, or even their own tasks. The willingness to discuss and their inherent curiosity create a desire to converse with their peers.
2.2 Presence of peer groups
Communicating with co-workers in general builds a sense of belonging and strengthens their bond. Therefore, there is a need for connecting with peer groups that arises frequently, resulting in regular informal conversations taking place in the workplace.
2.3 Fear of missing out
A common phenomenon faced by most employees in the office is the fear of missing out on bonding sessions, candid conversations, and creating memories with peer groups. A workplace is like a second home, as employees spend almost 8-10 hours here. Informal talks with peers keep them sane from the monotony of work and long meetings and keep them grounded.
2.4 Organizational culture
In today’s world, organizations encourage their staff to have frequent informal coffee break sessions at the workplace or within remote teams to make them feel comfortable and relaxed at the workplace. This initiates grapevine communication, regardless of the nature and size of the company.
3. Grapevine Communication Examples
3.1 Single Strand Chain
This involves the flow of information through people in a linear fashion until it reaches the ultimate recipient. For example, if an employee is about to be promoted, the news will be first communicated by the CEO to the manager or the team lead, who will have a word with the HR, who will finally communicate the news to the employee.
3.2 Gossip Chain
This comprises an employee in the centre who seeks information and passes it along to others around them. For instance, an employee hears about a co-worker getting married and tells their colleagues about it.
3.3 Probability Chain
This consists of an informational network where each person randomly conveys the message to a different set of people. The source of the information is different for everyone. For example, a co-worker achieves a breakthrough in their research work which is heard by their teammate who tells the rest of their team and other people in their department, and the information is passed to many others in a random manner.
3.4 Cluster Chain
In this method, information is passed by a person to a select group of people, who then convey it to other selected groups of people and so on. For example, a manager explains the process of using a software tool at work to his group of team leads, who then explain it to their respective teams, who further pass the explanation on to a group of interns getting mentored under them.
4. What are the Advantages of Grapevine Communication?
4.1 Vital information sharing
Managers in the office can use grapevine communication to share vital information with their teams. It keeps members well informed in case the details are not understood the way it is supposed to, via the formal modes of communication which could be missed or time-consuming at times.
4.2 Grievance redressal
Employees tend to open and address their issues in a comfortable manner without any hesitation during informal interactions, as opposed to a formal meeting. This gives companies a chance to understand their staff better and help them.
4.3 Forges stronger connections
Informal communication often helps smoothen relationships between the employer and employees and acts as a bridge between them. It increases the interactions and breaks down barriers stemming from hesitation or fear of being misquoted. This in turn enhances the workability of the organization.
4.4 Increase efficiency
Employees are easily able to share their problems during informal conversations. Thus, organizations can provide feedback and solutions to them in a timely manner. As a result, it improves the efficiency of the staff as well as the overall productivity of the company.
4.5 Provides referrals and recommendation
Casual communications between the managers and their employees can also encourage the latter to feel free to provide referrals and recommendations for the organization and eliminate several other steps in the lengthy recruitment process. They could discuss the gist of the profiles and open positions in the conversation.
4.6 Rapid communication
Grapevine communication is free of hierarchical barriers, rules, and documentation, which allows information and thoughts to spread rapidly amongst employees and the management within the organization. This reduces the wait time for information to come through and prepares the employee to react and respond accordingly.
5. Is Grapevine Communication good or bad?
5.1 Information could be leaked to the wrong ears
Since grapevine communication does not act on a rule-based system, the news is discussed openly, and it spreads quickly among employees. This could result in the information reaching the wrong set of people which could have unpleasant consequences. For example, if the management is discussing a layoff in the next couple of months and the employees hear about it, they could feel anxious and scared which would result in their productivity and motivation going down at work.
5.2 Rumour mongering
Since information is heard and reiterated multiple times from various sources, people would learn partial or incorrect details. This creates a rumour culture that could lead to the passing of false facts or unconfirmed information, resulting in unpleasant ramifications. For instance, a rumour about an employee having an affair with a manager.
5.3 Creates conflict of interests
Due to the nature of informal conversations, it could also build conflicts between employees and the management, and each other. The grapevine communication network is difficult and almost impossible to manage, thus having no control over what information is being passed on and whether it is verified.
5.4 Humiliation or embarrassment
As informal dialogues also consist of inevitable gossip and rumors, it could be demeaning and embarrassing to employees if the information shows them in a bad light. The facts could be rectified later, but the damage is already done. For example, rumors about an employee getting promoted through unfair means.
Oftentimes, information passed via informal conversations is not validated. This could result in misinformation and miscommunication within the organization which could lead to distrust between the employees and the management, and each other. For example, a rumour about favouring an employee over the others for rewards and promotion.
6. How to manage Grapevine Communication in an organization
6.1 Standardize communication
Managers and supervisors can use the grapevine to their advantage and show employees that they are open to communication outside of the formal boundaries by providing collaboration tools as mediums for informal conversations. This will make sure that employees are involved and heard without inviting resentment.
6.2 Create intent, execute contextually
Employers can engage with their staff frequently and be involved in their communications. This will build employer-employee trust and strengthen their bonding, creating an intent amongst employees to collaborate with the management more naturally and decrease the need of spreading false information.
6.3 Identify influencers
Look for individuals who tend to share information instantly and influence grapevine communication. Connect with them and understand their need and intent to do so. Identify solutions and use these employees to act as leaders of communication in emergencies or in the absence of a superior. Being transparent with employees eradicates the need to spread potential misinformation.
6.4 Review corporate policies
- To avoid distressing consequences to the organization’s goodwill, set boundaries for informal talks.
- Have a zero-tolerance rule for anything related to harassment, discrimination, or inflammatory remarks. These must be off-limits.
- Dismiss rumors before they go out of hand. And if some information manages to fly under your radar, have an action plan ready on how to mitigate and dissipate them.
- Share daily and weekly updates with the staff to build trust and diminish uncertainty and activate a healthy grapevine communication.
7.1 Why is it called Grapevine Communication?
Grapevine communication refer to the informal interactions between employees at a workplace. Just like the grapevine plant, the information circulates in all directions randomly throughout the organization. It spreads rapidly and reaches multiple people at once.
7.2 Is Grapevine Communication formal or informal?
Grapevine communication is an informal mode of communication between employees and the management, and with each other. It does not follow any rules or a hierarchal structure and is free from all authority levels.
7.3 What is the best example of grapevine communication?
A classic example of grapevine communication is the casual conversations between co-workers during lunch breaks about new policies, layoffs, new hires, bonuses, salary hikes, etc. Due to a lack of information and transparency from the management, employees tend to discuss these situations amongst themselves which could lead to the spreading of misinformation and rumors.