Balancing Work and Chit-Chat

While most organizations I know value productivity, I believe that there is an important strategy for increasing efficiency and output that is often overlooked.

One of the ways productivity can be improved is by focusing on building good relationships in the workplace.  People who like those they work with and for are typically happy and engaged, and thus more good work gets done. By contrast, working in an environment where people don’t know or like each other can be demoralizing, and as a result productivity will normally fall.

When we hire new employees one of the things we look for is people that are friendly and likeable to be around. We value employees who are engaged with not just their work, but also each other.  As a result of this focus, we have a highly engaged and sociable work environment. People like to come to work and genuinely like their co-workers.   We view this as highly positive.  When people spend 8-9 hours at work each day we think there is great value in having them enjoy each other’s company.

Of course, this sort of warm and friendly work environment will inevitably lead to a certain amount of non-work-related discussions. In general, I am not bothered by this, and I have come to view the small amounts of time taken for non-work-related conversations as an investment in our organization’s culture that will increase productivity in the long term.

I see value in asking questions about one’s weekend or up-coming vacation plans. However, we need to achieve a balance between enough and not too much. When chit-chat about Jim’s weekend plans turns into stories of Jim’s mother Martha and cousin Billy… “Oh, and then there was this time when I was on a camping trip….” – when 30-second stories turn into 30-minute historical documentaries – the chatter has stopped being a helpful tool for productivity.

While our organization places a high value on engagement, we also place an important value on productivity.  As a small organization, we need employees to be highly productive in order to accomplish our vision. Thus, engagement and productivity are both important to us.  If there is too much chit-chat, productivity begins to suffer. And if there is too much focus on head-down working with no interaction, engagement suffers.

In my experience, I find that leadership needs to monitor levels of both engagement and productivity and periodically work to recalibrate the balance.  From time to time when chit-chat increases beyond what it should, I have found our leadership just needs to gently name the observation and remind employees about the importance of balance. When giving this feedback, we want to make sure we don’t completely kill engagement though, as that will have a negative impact on productivity.

As always, the key word is balance. A healthy amount of socializing and chit-chat is beneficial to the overall well-being of the work environment. Perhaps counterintuitively, an additional benefit is that it also serves to support productivity. Work and healthy social engagement, rightly balanced in the workplace, are not opposites but complementary ways to keep your organization on track and effective.

Randy Grieser, CEO, Author, Speaker
ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance and the Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

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