Water cooler talk: Frown upon or encourage?

Water Cooler Talks
Water Cooler Talks

As businesses seek to become more profitable, managers often seek ways to reduce costs and increase productivity.  It has been my experience (and a no-brainer) that managers feel one key way to accomplish both of these goals is to eliminate and frown upon wasted time at the office.  This brings us to the question posed on the article’s topic line”Water cooler talk: (Should we… ) Frown upon or encourage?”

While I agree that a business can increase productivity in the short term by eliminating wasted time at water cooler-type activities, my experience has shown that this benefit is only temporary and severely reduces employee morale. Before I go any further, let me provide a brief definition of the “water-cooler talk” I refer to in this article.

The literal definition of a water cooler is a  “a machine that makes water cold and stores it for people to drink.”

Water cooler talk is “referring to the situation or place in an office where people talk in an informal way.”

The premise here is that as human beings, we are often very social creatures that enjoy interactions with others.  As such, there are common themes showing people congregate throughout common areas and talk about informal activities such as football games, weekend plans, recent news, etcetera.  Some examples of common areas where employees run into each other and talk about these topics (and many more) include the water cooler, the coffee nook, the designated smoker’s area.

As social beings, we enjoy interacting with others, reading communication cues, and building rapport with our coworkers.  Understanding that most businesses do not pay employee salaries so they can spend their time enhancing their social skills, I agree that we ought to minimize wasted time… somewhat.  As a good friend and mentor, Sergio Moller, once told me:

“I know there are lulls during the day where productivity will drop, and employees will be ineffective. The key is not to eliminate this, but re-focus that time in a productive manner.  Allow employees to SCHEDULE some time to re-energize.”

Some examples included allowing employees the opportunity to take 10-15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon, as well as 30-minute extended lunch for employees to work-out and boost their energy levels.  While not all industries are the same, nor can cubecompanies afford allowing their employees numerous scheduled breaks throughout the day, I can certainly attest to the increase volume of effective work performed once employees returned back from their time off.  I will admit, productivity (tasks assigned vs. tasks completed vs. quality of work performed) was measured on a daily basis to ensure the company was meeting its assigned goals.

Back to the water-cooler: Employees engaged in water-cooler talks can increase cohesion among the ranks. I would advise allowing your employees the opportunity to freely engage in talks among peers; don’t frown upon, encourage! Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t. Studies have found (not surprisingly) that groups with strong cohesion can increase productivity “more than 10%“. What does this mean? if you want to increase productivity and cut costs, foster an environment where employees will not drag out their slumps for hours, but rather allow them the opportunity schedule an activity (reading, walking, talking to one another, shopping for awesome gifts) and this can actually HELP your bottom line.

What are your thoughts? How often do you participate in ‘water-cooler’ type talks? what do YOU do to re-energize yourself through the day?

Have a question for me? Hit me up on the twitter machine, my handle is @ajros02 and you can use the hashtag #AskAJ. Your question may be featured in an upcoming blog, or directly on twitter.

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