Water cooler conversations can help improve office morale.

There are a lot of myths about the workplace, which, as young professionals, may take us a while to figure out.

One common mistake I made has to do with socializing at work.

I always thought not joining in the water cooler conversation would be appreciated because I’d come off looking dedicated. Apparently the opposite is true, according to a survey on Monster.ca conducted by Office Team staffing firm, which found 40 per cent of workers claim chatting at work increases productivity by nurturing employee bonding.

“Of course it is a loss of time for the company, because when people socialize they don’t work,” says Corrine Maier, author of Bonjour Laziness, Pantheon. “At the same time, companies also see it as a way for people to get to know each other, thus a way for people to be part of the team and to be able to work together. So it hinders a company, but at the same it helps it.”

Dr. Rob Yeung, a business psychologist, agrees that water cooler conversations can help communication throughout the company.

“Done right it can cement relationships and foster communication,” he says. “A lot of times people get so bogged down in their day-to-day jobs that they suffer from silo mentality — they lose track of what else is going on in the company and can end up launching initiatives that compete with other stuff that might be going on in the business.”

Not to say that gossip can’t be harmful. There are many ways that over-socializing can cause problems within a company. “If people spend all their time exchanging gossip and having fun together, it’s harmful for the company,” says Maier. “But everybody knows that people at work spend a lot of time ... not working — playing computer games, shopping online, and chatting with co-workers.

Yeung says the more office politics involved, the messier the situation. “If an office is very political and people spend a lot of time backstabbing, obviously that can make everyone fearful about what might be said about them when they’re not at the water cooler,” he says.

However, most managers surveyed (40 per cent) don’t believe water cooler conversations make a difference in terms of productivity, but Yeung disagrees. “Socializing is a vital part of working in a company,” he says.

For managers who do not like the bonding to occur over coffee or water coolers, they may want to find other strategies for team building. “A lot of companies foster socialization by having get-togethers such as bonding weekends, drinks, evenings, office Fridays, or other times when employees are encouraged to get together over a beer,” says Yeung.


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