SKILLS DEVELOPMENT / 24 July 2020Soft Skills: Why They are Harder Than You Think and How You Can Acquire Them
When was the last time you chatted with your co-workers about their weekend plans or the local team’s chances in the playoffs? If you can’t recall, it’s time to gather around the water cooler and start discussing the chances of rain this weekend. Your company culture depends on it.
While you might think conversation not related to work might be a productivity killer, the opposite has proven to be true. “Water cooler talk” helps employees relax and get to know their colleagues in a more personal way. This informality can positively impact a company and actually improve employee morale and increase productivity.
What is Water Cooler Talk?
“Water cooler talk” is the term used to describe casual discussions between co-workers about non-work-related topics. The term originated at a time when employees all worked in the same office, which invariably had a water cooler. If an office doesn’t have a water cooler, there is usually another central gathering point – coffee maker, kitchen, break room, etc.
In general, water cooler talk conjures up negative connotations. The vision of employees gossiping about their employer and fellow employees comes to mind, driving many employers to discourage these casual conversations. While idle gossip isn’t helpful and shouldn’t be supported, casual conversations about topics such as the weather, sports, TV shows, can help build a cohesive workplace and in turn, strengthen the company’s culture.
How Does Water Cooler Talk Help a Workplace?
A big part of enjoying your job is directly related to working in a pleasant and supportive environment. Employees want workplaces where they can establish friendships, communicate and collaborate openly. If they aren’t getting it at your workplace, chances are they will find it elsewhere.
If you want to retain your current employees and attract new talent, you should consider the environment you are providing your employees. Encouraging casual interactions is one way to meet the social and collaborative needs of employees. Employee engagement is essential to a company’s growth and continued success. Engaged employees are highly-motivated and more productive.
Strong company culture is often overlooked when considering a company’s successes and failures. Teamwork is an important ingredient for achieving goals and helps define a company’s culture. By bringing your employees together in a casual and personal way, water cooler conversation helps to enhance and strengthen your company culture.
What are the Benefits of Water Cooler Talk in the Office?
The benefits of water cooler conversation for a workplace cannot be overstated. Here are some important reasons to start encouraging your employees to take more breaks at the water cooler:
1.Enable all employees and managers to be more approachable and transparent in the office
Most workdays are filled with stress, deadlines, presentations, sales and pressure to produce results. Everyone needs to walk away from their desk every once in a while; otherwise, the pressure will build. Informal conversations enable employees to not only get away from their desk for a few minutes but also to develop relationships with people you generally only see at meetings. Discussing topics not related to work may appear to hinder productivity but these casual interactions are necessary for building trust and improving teamwork in the organization. When you trust your co-workers, you are not afraid to reach out for assistance.
2. Share overarching ideas between different departments
In offices where employees are separated into their own workspace and teams occupy different areas or floors, regular face-to-face communication is uncommon outside a conference room. In some cases, teams may not even know what role their counterparts play in the company. Water cooler talk breaks down silos and encourages employees to make personal connections. Employees will feel more comfortable reaching out to colleagues in other departments to collaborate or assist on projects. Whether it’s simply to share a new Google Chrome extension or brainstorming on how to best deal with a disgruntled client, cross-departmental communication is key. These interactions will build a cohesive team working towards a common goal.
3. Help brainstorm solutions if co-workers are stuck
The water cooler chat may start as a casual discussion about weekend plans, but it can quickly evolve into an impromptu brainstorming session. In more formal settings such as meetings, employees may feel guarded or reluctant to share their ideas.
The informal nature of the conversation encourages employees to drop their fears. These brainstorming sessions allow employees to test out ideas before formally presenting to management. Colleagues can also assist in refining the ideas and adding their own suggestions. Ideas spurred by water cooler conversations can influence new ideas, products, and services.
4. Offers up a social atmosphere to help with work-life balance
Happy employees are more productive employees. No job is going to be fun and enjoyable every day. Dealing with work stresses day in and day out is draining. However, it is important for employees to find a balance between work stress and their lives.
Socializing between colleagues enables employees to take a break from the daily work pressure and get to know their co-workers and managers. Companies need to find ways to nurture the relationships developed at the water cooler and encourage more social interactions including team-building activities, drinks after work, birthday celebrations. These social events establish good relationships between employees and are important in happiness at work and creating a cohesive community.
5. Allows for real face-to-face time with management
Employees and managers spend all day looking at their computer screens and not much time talking to each other, if at all. When they do communicate, it’s usually by email. In business, communication is more than just words in an email. Interpersonal relationships are important to forward the company’s mission and achieve its goals. Face-to-face communication enables you to detect body language, feelings and tone, which can all be misinterpreted in an email.
In addition, many employees are hesitant to speak with their managers face-to-face. Water cooler talk is a great way to help employees get more comfortable with managers. People are more likely to open up if they are talking about personal interests instead of work tasks. This casual conversation will help managers and employees develop stronger relationships, which will take away the anxiety employees feel about face-to-face discussions with their managers.
Creating a relaxed and comfortable working environment is essential to success and growth. Water cooler talk encourages employees to get to know each other and connect on a personal level. As employees build relationships with their colleagues, their motivation and productivity increases. The increased communication and familiarity foster a more positive work atmosphere, which benefits everyone.
Author Emily Banks is the editor for the Human Resources section of the new website 365 Business Tips, a site geared towards helping small business owners grow their companies, as well as a digital marketing expert for Arnett Credentials. When she’s not typing up her next article, she can be found adventuring the beaches and breweries of San Diego.