… and how to stop it from going too far
Water cooler talk – those casual employee conversations on work time that may encompass a variety of topics. Back in the day, employees often ran into each other at the water cooler (hence the name), but these conversations can take place anywhere. Your employees may discuss anything from a popular Netflix series to a new company policy. While some employers may view water cooler talk as salacious gossip among employees or a productivity suck, this type of communication definitely has some benefits.
Obviously, you don’t want water cooler talk to get out of control, especially if it’s negative. However, it would help if you recognized you could not stop it entirely, learned to embrace the benefits, and identified when it is getting out of control.
Benefits of water cooler talk
When employees are communicating, they are building relationships. They’re getting to know one another on a deeper level. Water cooler chats allow employees to discover each other’s interests and discover things they have in common. As a result, they build stronger relationships and are usually more comfortable working with each other. They are more willing to collaborate, share constructive feedback, and generate ideas together.
Boosts productivity and creativity
While this may seem counterintuitive – hear us out! Working non-stop at a desk can lead to stress, boredom, and burnout. Those things hinder productivity. Regular breaks and water cooler chats are great for breaking the monotony and unwinding a bit. Consequently, when employees return to their workstations, they are refreshed and ready to take on the next challenge. Spontaneous conversations also allow employees more opportunities to share ideas as they come into mind. Sharing this way is different from a tightly scheduled team meeting. It could lead to innovations that contribute to the success of your organization.
Builds a positive company culture
Encouraging this type of relationship building is a distinctive way of creating a fun and relaxed work environment. Doing so makes work enjoyable for your employees. It becomes a place they can learn, grow, and develop personal connections with their colleagues. This boosts morale and helps build a supportive culture within your organization.
Improves recruitment and retention
The more opportunities you provide your employees to socialize with one another, the more likely they will develop genuine and long-term friendships with their colleagues. When they form close bonds with their teammates, employees are more likely to want to stay with your organization. Regular water cooler talk also keeps employees engaged. Research by Gallup shows that companies with highly engaged employees experience up to 59% lower turnover. Also, when water cooler talk creates a positive culture, it helps attract the best talent.
Breaks down barriers between managers and employees
Whether a manager or business owner, participate in these water cooler chats and get to know your team. It’s a great way to build rapport with your employees and break down communication barriers. In turn, this builds trust and stronger relationships. It also allows you to identify any issues that your team members face so you can take action to address them.
Warning signs your water cooler talk may be turning malicious
Unfortunately, there are times when water cooler talk can get out of hand and turn into malicious gossip. If left unchecked, it can lead to the opposite of the intended benefits, like low morale and distrust between employees. It can even create severe consequences for your organization regarding reduced productivity and even lawsuits if harassment occurs.
To prevent this, keep a look out for these warning signs:
Negative gossip aimed at individuals
Negative gossip can range from criticism of a person’s appearance or the way they work to malicious comments meant to hurt feelings or harm a reputation. It would be best if you stamped this out immediately as it is the first step to bullying issues. Rumors and gossip can cause stress and anxiety to the individual targeted.
Lies and misinformation
Not confined to lies and stories about an individual, this can also include speculation and misinformation about any company developments. So, regular, open communication is the order of the day. Once rumor and speculation spread, there’s no stopping it.
Jealousy towards successful team members
While competition in the workplace is not bad, watch out for others who are resentful of other people’s success. Resentment and envy can drive such individuals to tell lies and stories to bring down and harm successful team members. This can cause bad feelings and seriously damage team cohesion.
Cliques most definitely form in the workplace. These employees often spend a lot of time together and exclude other employees from joining the group. Some of the warning signs of cliquey behavior include:
- Showing a lack of interest in individuals outside of the group
- A group of employees using their power to bully or humiliate others
- Discouragement of alternative opinions within the group
- An excessive amount of time spent by a group of employees gossiping about others
Manipulative or threatening behavior
Manipulative behavior can occur when an individual takes personal information about a colleague and uses it to play on the individual’s fears or sensitivities in a malicious way. Likewise, threatening behavior includes malicious intent like verbal abuse, threats of violence, intimidation, discriminatory behavior, bullying, and harassment. You must deal with these behaviors effectively and timely as they lead to burnout, anxiety, and depression among targeted employees.
Keep it under control
You can keep water cooler talk from turning into malicious behavior when you create a clear code of conduct and enforce it. Spell out the kinds of behavior that are considered unacceptable and the disciplinary procedures used to combat it. Beyond that, it’s helpful to provide employees with regular anti-harassment and anti-violence training. Likewise, give them tools to correct any unwanted behaviors.
Encouraging employees to communicate beyond the usual work chatter allows them to forge strong bonds and work together more effectively. This boosts morale and builds a more creative and dynamic organization. Ensure your casual workplace conversations do not descend into malicious gossip or harassment. Foster a culture of open communication, mutual trust, and respect.