Water-cooler blues: What to do about office chatterboxes

While a bit of banter in the office is a great way to alleviate stress, new research shows that more often than not, employees are taking it too far.

Although catching up in the kitchen or having a chat around the water-cooler is a great way to decrease stress and relax employees, a recent poll from Employment Office revealed that 63% of employees feel a colleague has taken it too far, impacting productivity and resulting in resentment.

Social relationships help build workplace morale, but boundaries must be established. “Friendly banter is great to build workplace culture, however there is a point where there is too much talking and not enough working,” Tudor Marsden-Huggins, managing director of Employment Office, said.

Marsden-Huggins stated that some workplaces find themselves with an office chatterbox who interrupts work, which eventually causes conflict and frustration. The poll found that some employees, despite reporting the problem or asking the chatterbox to stop interrupting their work, left the situation angry – and some found the situation unresolved despite their best efforts.

However, employees work more effectively when they are given the opportunity to forge friendships.

“We don’t want employees to be working in a non-speaking environment, as this can also be counterproductive,” Marsden-Huggins explained. “A manager needs to be in touch with their team, knowing just the point at which chat stops being something that energizes the team, and turns into something that actually drains workers.”

He warned that not addressing office chatterboxes, or doing so aggressively, can drain the enjoyment from the organization for its employees, negatively impacting their work. “Sometimes it can be difficult to find the balance, but it is absolutely essential.”


Key HR take-aways

Not quite sure what to do about your chatterbox? Employment Office offered some tips on how to cope when conversations turn south:

  • Take a call. The best way is to excuse yourself from the conversation, by either making a phone call or heading off to send some important emails. Excusing yourself is a polite way of letting the offender know they’ve crossed a line.
  • Work together. More than likely, most employees feel the same way. Make plans with your colleagues to help you bail out of a conversation, and do the same for them.
  • Stay un-engaged. If you aren’t interested, don’t start chatting. Stay focused on your work – don’t be rude, but let the chatterbox know you don’t have time for a conversation right now.
  • Speak to your supervisor. When you are an executive, this can be a bit harder, but if an employee is interrupting workers enough that it is effecting productivity, it becomes an issue that needs to be dealt with – professionally and discreetly.
  • Create outlets. Chances are, if your employees are talking on your time, it is because they aren’t provided with an appropriate outlet. Is there a tea room where they can catch up at lunch? Are you organizing company events? Injecting a healthy amount of recreation into the workplace can mean conversations don’t spill over into times of heavy workload.


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