Layoff Gossip: How It Helps, Hurts

While she's glad her boss recently told her behind closed doors that sales are down 20 percent and that everyone would soon receive a 20 percent pay cut, she could do without the other tidbit her boss made her privy to.

"I know my coworker is probably going to be laid off at some point in the near future, but I'm sworn to secrecy," Sarah said. "I feel super-guilty over the fact that I can't tell him. I've thought about doing it anyway. But I don't want to freak him out and then have them not lay him off."

Ignorance Is Not Always Bliss

On the flip side, many employees say they wish their company would offer more details about impending layoffs, not less.

Take Lauren, who works in the newsroom of a daily metropolitan newspaper. At the start of the year, her employer told staff to expect layoffs in the spring, but they didn't give any specific dates. In the meantime, Lauren and her colleagues cling to the swirling rumors about who, what, where, when and how.

"Basically, they left everybody hanging, which I think is just the worst way to do a layoff," Lauren said. "This place is like a tomb. Everybody's basically sitting here waiting for the angel of death to come. I would rather that [the company] just get it over with and be very cut and dried about it."

"Uncertainty is what's going to erode morale more than anything else in an organization," said Crimando. "The science here says that telling people bad news sooner is better."

Likewise, he said, corporate transparency always trumps secrecy.

Freelancers Fall Prey to the Rumor Mill, Too

The self-employed aren't immune to falling down the rabbit hole of budget-cut rumors either. Ruth, a freelance journalist who has a steady gig with a media outfit that's currently up for sale, falls in this camp.

"I get obsessed with the gossip to the point that I become unproductive," Ruth said via e-mail. "Instead of pursuing the work I have, I'm chasing down the latest choice tidbit on whether this other business is going to close. I'm on the phone with colleagues, I'm reading all the blogs, tuning in to the TV, to Twitter, you name it. It's probably all a waste of time, but hope springs eternal and all that."

This is where the experts advise us to unplug our modems, get off the gossip train and breathe into a paper bag.

It's one thing to prepare yourself as needed: checking your finances, dusting off your resume and shoring up your personal and professional networks.

After all, "A lot of the gossip is going to be accurate," said Laurence Stybel, president of Stybel Peabody & Associates, Inc., a management consulting firm in Boston.

But it's a bad idea to let yourself get so consumed with the latest layoff rumblings that you can barely focus on your work, said Stybel, who's also executive in residence at the Sawyer School of Business at Boston's Suffolk University.

"Office gossip and much of the news in the media and in the newspapers are variations of the following theme: there are big events you have no control over that could destroy your standard of living and your immediate future," he said.

"If I'm listening to the office gossip and all it's doing is making me sleepless, why am I still listening to it?"

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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