Great WSJ article (subscription may be required) today about rumors and gossip in the workplace.
"Rumors really fly when at least two conditions are met: high degrees of anxiety and lots of uncertainty. Then, two basic kinds of rumors -- wish rumors and dread rumors -- emerge, says Prof. Rosnow." [Ralph Rosnow is a former professor of psychology at Temple University].
"Rumors are typically hypotheses with potential widespread impact. Gossip, on the other hand, is usually presented as fact, and tends to be more about people, the professor explains. Gossip flourishes, research shows, in organizations where members are highly competitive and someone could benefit from tainting a rival."
In some situations, rumors are helpful for conveying information through an organization via back channels. According to Allan J. Kimmel, a marketing professor at ESCP business school in Paris and author of "Rumors and Rumor Control", "In moderation, it can be used to influence decisions, vent feelings to relieve stress, signal status or power, nurture cohesiveness, and translate job tasks and policies into understandable language."
A lot of rumors can be put to rest by those in the know. I respect managers who regularly keep their employees informed by communicating with them in an honest and open manner. Otherwise, it's frustrating to be blindsided by unexpected news, especially when you first discover it from an external source, e.g., the newspaper.