Conversation, chitchat, tittle-tattle – water cooler talk is officially good for business. But what’s your organization’s attitude to non-work-related chat?
Whether it’s predictions on the latest box set plotline, a catch up on sports or just an overview of the weekend, the role of the watercooler moment is hugely advantageous for many reasons.
There are a number of benefits to having staff who are able to enjoy casual exchanges in the office. These “water cooler moments” are actually incredibly beneficial, whether they’re online Slack chats or a quick natter while making a cup of coffee. Here are the main reasons why you should encourage them in your workplace.
Water cooler chat impacts company culture – in a very good way
The foundations of a positive company culture are rooted in employees who are happy and engaged. By enabling a workplace that allows casual conversation, you are, in effect, building stronger connections amongst staff. Rather than have a working relationship based on their specific function at work, you have a kinship based on shared interests, deeper insights into personalities, and a better understanding of the individual. This will enrich the day-to-day contact that colleagues have with each other and make for better working relationships. Bringing people together on a more personal level enhances company culture.
A sense of community is vital in the workplace, and watercooler chat is one way of creating that.
Water cooler chats enable people to feel more comfortable
A workplace is made of all sorts of people. Some more confident than others. Extroverts will naturally be more forthright and confident in their day to day interactions with colleagues. So much so, that it can further isolate quieter members of the team. However, those employees who feel a little more introverted and shyer can benefit from small, informal chats one-to-one in the office. Working in a busy office can be quite an assault on the senses for anyone who is an introvert or has social anxiety. Water cooler moments are a great way to break the ice and bring people out of their shell. Talking about family life, finding common bonds, or just chatting about the weather can allow introverts to open up in a comfortable environment. By building up friendships slowly like this, you help to reduce any tension and worries that your staff members may have.
Water cooler chat builds community
We spend a large part of our lives at work, so it helps that we feel supported by the people that surround us in the office. Aside from family, the workplace community is essential to the health and happiness of the individuals who make it up. Watercooler chat and the implicit community that flourishes from this can really improve the quality of life at work. The community aspect not only increases confidence in your colleagues but also has a huge impact on morale and employee satisfaction.
Water cooler conversations allow informal chats with management
Chats with a senior member away from the desk can help break down the formalities of hierarchical structure. These moments allow a more casual approach, encouraging conversations, and developing a better relationship between leader and employee. The value in this is improved relationships, a greater understanding of roles, and a sense of recognition. When the formal boundaries of structure dissipate, it can have positive impacts on productivity, loyalty, and motivation.
Water cooler chats improve collaboration
Teamwork relies on trust and respect, and this can be fostered with conversation away from projects and deadlines. Non-work-related chats can enhance the bond between people allowing them to understand the other person a little better. One of the best ways to streamline collaboration is to have employees interact with each other on a more personal level. Allowing them to take breaks and discuss non-work-related topics can help enhance this relationship, ensuring they are comfortable with each other to collaborate and work together effectively. This familiarity eases collaboration and allows a better understanding of each other.
Water cooler talk can boost health
Most workplaces produce stress and tension in some way or another. Unfortunately, these can be detrimental to productivity, and organizations are working hard to offset stressful environments. One way that they can do this is by encouraging more breaks away from desks. When staff can shoot the breeze and talk about something other than work, tensions subside, and the worker can take time out. These moments also allow you to check up on your people in a non-intrusive way and identify any potential issues with which you may be able to help.
Virtual water cooler chats help remote workers
To have the digital tools to indulge in a little virtual water cooler talk with colleagues is an essential component of employee engagement for remote workers. Isolation and detachment are some of the main gripes for dispersed workforces. To be able to have casual conversations with staff members who are both in-house and remote is a huge boon. All organizations need to make sure employees, as well as contractors and freelancers, can check in with the main offices in a professional, but more familiar, capacity.
Water cooler talk improves productivity
Casual conversation wastes time and kills productivity, right? Wrong. Research shows that deskbound employees should get up from the desks at least once an hour for a comfort break, to get a drink or to stretch their legs. Chats during these breaks are a great way of destressing, switching off briefly and refocusing the mind. The result is improved productivity and a renewed focus. Watercooler chats can help show someone how to do something, coordinate collaborative work, resolve issues, and build the trust needed for productive work to happen.
Watercooler talk can inspire
Deskbound workers know that sitting at a desk does not arouse much inspiration but leaving it and moving around can. Getting up from your desk for a few minutes can enhance your mood, combat lethargy, and increase focus. When these little breaks are combined with a brief chat with colleagues, ideas, and inspiration can emerge without much effort.
When watercooler chat goes wrong
Of course, casual chat can soon get out of hand. An update on the family and a Netflix recommendation can easily veer into a conversation that isn’t appropriate.
Gossip and rumor have always been the scourge of the office, and there are measures you can take to minimize the risk? Gossip can be very damaging to an individual, with the potential to ruin careers and reputation. To reduce this, senior leaders should make an effort to be visible on the floor and lead by example.
Protracted conversation is another peril. When you talk about the weather and get delivered a sermon, it can be hard to extract yourself and head back to your desk. If you find yourself on the receiving end of a tirade from a colleague, don’t be afraid to assert control over the conversation by politely letting them you know need to head back to work.
Taboo subjects should also be avoided, namely politics, religion and money. Your views and opinions might not match someone else’s in the office, so it’s best to leave all heated discussions outside of the office.
Watercooler chat is just the oil that greases the workforce wheels. Keep it light, keep it brief and keep it friendly – and you’ll reap the benefits of a happy, motivated and focused organization.