Managing

Your office chit-chat is more harmful than you think

Patrick Stafford /

Think a little office gossip is nothing but fun? Think again.

A new survey from marketing group Employment Office, which questioned 330 Australian employees, found 63% said chatter in the workplace had gone too far and negatively impacted on their productivity – even causing other workers to resent them.

The problem is so serious that 4% of respondents said they handled the excessive chit-chat in an “angry confrontation”, although most just asked people to stop interrupting them.

Workplace professionals say the onus is on managers to quickly spot excessive chat when it appears, and before it gets out of hand.

Occasional office banter is nothing new; workplace gossip has been a tool of procrastinators everywhere. But unfortunately, this isn’t something business owners have a lot of power to stop.

Abiramie Sathiamoorthy, co-founder of E&I People Solutions, says talking is simply “part of the job”.

“You need to make sure everyone is on the same page and that you’re working collaboratively to achieve goals that you want,” she says.

“If they’re not performing, then perhaps the reason is because they’re spending too much time speaking about non-work related things – but that’s a management issue you need to address on a case-by-case basis.”

The issue of talking in the workplace is a tricky one – various studies have shown workplace relationships enhance productivity and, obviously, reduce turnover. More companies are relying on employee referrals for new hires in order to exploit that.

But with 63% of respondents suggesting extra chit-chat has gone too far, is a solution even worth exploring?

According to both Employment Office and Sathiamoorthy, it’s not something the business owner should necessarily take on themselves – it’s something the employee must deal with themselves, for the most part.

“This is an interesting one. Rather than a general, blanket rule, which seems a little too compliance heavy, it’s more of a case-by-case thing,” says Sathiamoorthy.

“Office relationships are always an interesting area. Whether you like someone is irrelevant or not, you have to work with them, and you have to keep that in mind when promoting more productivity.”

Employment Office managing director Tudor Marsden-Huggins said in a statement business owners should empower their employees to handle excessive chatter. That can range from simply excusing themselves from a conversation to address other work, or ignoring them altogether.

But the opposite it also true, Marsden-Huggins said – working in a non-speaking atmosphere can also reduce productivity.

“If it becomes apparent that there is a distinct workplace chatterbox, steps should be taken to curtail the behaviour, while still maintaining a friendly and relaxed work atmosphere, where employees feel free to share a joke and a laugh, providing them with much-needed short breaks throughout the day.

“Every situation is different, and the subjectivity of it makes it difficult, but a manager needs to be in touch with their team, knowing just the point at which chat stops being something the energises the team, and turns into something that actually drains workers.”

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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