Dealing with Covid-19 Conspiracy Theories in the Office

Covid-19 conspiracy theories in the business context

The Covid-19 pandemic came with many new challenges. These include misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories surrounding Covid-19. Since the start of the pandemic they have been shared in private – but even in the workplace, gossipers and conspirators are increasingly started spreading their “alternative” truths about the virus. In addition, postings in social media, in the official team chat or the private messenger groups of colleagues are increasing as well. This confronts managers with a new question: how to deal with employees who repeatedly spread false or even dangerous theories about the Covid-19 pandemic?

In this article we provide you with five tips on how to deal with conspiracy theories in the office.

5 tips for dealing with conspiracy theories in the office

Dealing with the question mentioned above is becoming increasingly relevant. Both for the spirit in your team as well as for your external impact. If employees spread false information or conspiracy myths such as QAnon without restraint, e.g. at customer meetings or on the Internet, this poses a real risk to your company’s reputation as reputation of one single employee can quickly transfer to your entire organization. Stakeholders might assume that your company as a whole accepts, tolerates or even supports the employee’s views. This, in turn, can quickly trigger avalanches of outrage on social media and degenerate into a real reputation crisis. So: How do you deal with conspirators in a business context? We have summarized five tips for you.

1: Seek the conversation

A discussion can help clear up misunderstandings and dissuade employees from crude theories. It is important that you prepare for the discussion and remain calm in the situation. Do not react angrily or aggressively to your employee’s statements, but take them seriously and try to signal understanding for possible fears and uncertainties. At the same time, however, stand up against your employee’s conspiracy theories and make it clear that they have no place in the office. If you really want to discuss the content of his statements with your employee, prepare yourself accordingly. Inform yourself about common arguments and counter-arguments. Research reputable sources that you can cite if necessary. It can also be helpful to keep asking questions in order to get the employee to think about and question his own theses.

2: Hold against it

If you are confronted with conspiracy-theory narratives from an employee in your daily work, react directly. Nip your employee’s statements in the bud and don’t give them any room. You can do this, for example, by responding directly or interrupting the employee’s lecture on the latest conspiracy theory. Position yourself clearly so that other team members see that you do not tolerate conspiracy theories in the workplace. But remember: Always remain respectful!

3: Establish clear rules

In addition to hygiene regulations, you should establish further rules for your employees in the Covid-19 pandemic. With reference to conspiracy theories, for example, a company agreement can help here, specifying how long employees remain within the realm of what can be said. However, it is particularly important to set rules for your employees’ social media use. This always applies if an employee makes a clear reference to your company in their social media profiles. If this is the case, you can establish rules for communication in the form of a social media guideline. In this guideline, you can also specify that the sharing of disinformation, conspiracy theories, extremist content or hate speech is not permitted or must be identified as a private opinion.

4: Last resort: warning and dismissal

If repeated discussions and clear instructions come to nothing, employers often have few options left. If an employee refuses to be instructed, does not adjust his or her behavior or even refuses to abide by hygiene rules due to his or her attitudes, an official warning can help. Of course, these must always be based on legal grounds.

Whether the dissemination of conspiracy myths entitles the employee to a warning or termination depends on various factors. For example, some professions – such as teachers – are subject to stricter requirements. Another factor is whether your employee shares his theories only in private circles or propagates them publicly – e.g. in social media. However, a reference to your companies must always be recognizable. If this is the case, you can assume that the employee’s behavior is damaging your company’s reputation in the public eye. This, in turn, can be a legitimate reason for a warning or even termination. Before you take this step, however, you should make sure you have legal protection.

5: And how do I react as a colleague?

It is not only difficult for team leaders to deal with conspiracy theorists in the office. Especially as a colleague, you are often confronted more directly with the statements of other team members. If you feel uncomfortable or even attacked by a colleague’s conspiracy narratives, you may say so. Either address the colleague directly – always in a friendly and respectful manner, of course – and communicate in first-person messages. Make it clear where your problem lies with his statements and use the above tips as a guide. Alternatively, you can report the colleague to your supervisor. Here, too, make it clear why the statements bother you and what you would like to see from your boss. In addition, the following also applies to you in everyday office life: Hold against conspiratorial statements. If your colleague once again gives a lecture on his latest theory, either argue against it or simply break off the conversation.

Effectively countering conspiracy myths in everyday professional life

The increasing spread of conspiracy theories presents us with new challenges not only in our private lives. Superiors and colleagues are also confronted with difficult situations in the work context. This makes it all the more important to deal with the problem appropriately – also in order to avert potential risks, e.g. for the company’s reputation. Direct talks, clear positioning, rules and regulations and, ultimately, even legal action can help.

Do you need support in dealing with conspiracy myths in a business context? We are happy to help you!

Better safe than sorry.