Small businesses should welcome workplace chatter
"I want people to enjoy coming to the office and working. I want them to get things done, and I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive."
With the football playoffs well underway, small business owners may find some of their staffers are a little distracted and more inclined to talk than work. A smart boss will tolerate some chatter, recognizing that staffers who feel good in the workplace are likely to be more productive, rather than less.
“I want people to enjoy coming to the office and working. I want them to get things done, and I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive,” said Marty Kotis, CEO of Kotis Properties Inc., a Greensboro, N.C., commercial real estate development firm.
“I’m not a micromanager. I have a goal, they have to do it. If they want to relax along the way, that’s great.”
Staffers who stop working to talk about sports or politics are not much different from those running the office Super Bowl pool or who are doing some Internet shopping or e-mailing. Such activities are all distractions company owners should accept as part of the workplace, as long as staffers don’t abuse the privilege.
Trying to clamp down on employee conversations can create an atmosphere that’s unpleasant, even oppressive.
“You don’t want to have an inhuman workplace,” said attorney Jonathan Segal of Philadelphia-based Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen LLP.
The camaraderie that comes out of workers sharing a little fun, meanwhile, can go a long way toward their feeling like they’re part of a team. It’s well-known that when staffers are happy, they work better.
But let’s say the talk is indeed running on a little too long, and you’re sensing that productivity is being hurt. Raise the issue at a staff meeting, or send e-mails to the employees who aren’t getting their work done, suggests Bob Burbidge, founder of Genesis Consolidated Services Inc., a Burlington, Mass.-based provider of human resources outsourcing.
Don’t use a verbal sledge hammer, however. A firm but friendly reminder that work needs to be the first priority is a better approach.
“You just have to kind of raise the level of awareness a bit, and try to keep it so we can respect each other’s time,” Burbidge said.
And, he said, don’t chew someone out publicly. If you need to tell staffers in person they’re overdoing the chatter, do it privately to avoid humiliating them and making everyone else feel uncomfortable.
If their productivity continues to suffer, then you’re dealing with a performance and possible discipline issue.