Let’s talk about talk! Personal conversations at work are a universal issue, no matter what line of work you’re in. We’re human beings and we like to talk. But it can also be a tricky topic. Too much chit chat in the workplace can lead to a slump in productivity, but cracking down too harshly on talking can kill office morale. So where’s the happy medium?
Whether you’re wondering if you’re going to get in trouble for talking about your kid’s soccer game on Saturday, or you’re wondering if you need to institute a policy limiting employee personal talk, we’ll guide you through the ups and downs of keeping work and personal life separate in the office.
Why are Personal Conversations a Problem?
Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. Why should we care about personal chats or sharing personal information at work? There are two main reasons: Getting off track with personal talk causes distractions and slows you down and overly chatty employees can lead to gossip and backbiting.
In fact, CareerBuilder surveyed more than 2,000 hiring and human resource managers and 3,000 employees from a variety of industries and company sizes to identify the biggest obstacles to productivity in the office and here are the results:
- Cell phones and texting (55%)
- The Internet (41%)
- Gossip (39%)
- Social media (27%)
- Co-workers dropping by (27%)
- Smoke breaks/snack breaks (27%)
- Email (26%)
- Meetings (24%)
- Noisy co-workers (20%)
- Sitting in a cubicle (9%)
Unsurprisingly, these top ten productivity killers all have to do with excessive talking. And no good office wants that. So what do you do about it?
How to Manage Personal Conversations at Work
Does your workplace have a policy about personal conversations? Check in with HR to see what the guidelines might be. That will help you know what’s off limits and reduce your stress about gray areas. Does your workplace need to put a policy in place? Be specific and focus on productivity and objectives. Don’t leave it up to your employees to guess what kind of chats are out of bounds. When everyone is on the same page, these types of problems are much less prevalent.
Set a Good Example
Whether or not you’re a manager, the best way to lead your fellow coworkers in a less talkative direction is by example. When you refuse to be drawn into office gossip and keep your mind focused on work, others will tend to do the same.
When you have that one coworker who just isn’t quite getting the memo, try to avoid calling them out in front of everyone else. This will only increase drama and tensions. Instead, if you feel that an employee is spending too much work time chatting, meet with them privately to talk about productivity and office policies.
Reward Productive Employees
Everyone loves to be rewarded for good behavior! If you’re in a position to do so, make a point to celebrate the employees that stick to their work and keep their personal life separate (without making them feel like a goody two-shoes, of course.) This is the carrot vs. the stick approach, and you’re likely to get a more positive response from positive feedback.
Set Aside Time
Make sure to set aside some time for healthy personal talk! If your employees or coworkers are too talkative, it may be a sign that they don’t feel like they have a release or time to just catch up with each other. Consider setting up a weekly happy hour or other office get togethers outside of work hours for your people to relax and connect.
In Support of Personal Talk
On the flip side however, you really don’t want to squash every little chit and chat that isn’t strictly related to work. It’s not healthy and it’s not good for your employees, their morale, or their productivity.
Anne Kreamer, author of “It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the Workplace,” has spent years studying the role of emotions and conversations in the workplace and asserts the idea that the rules as we know them are changing. Our human desires for connection and conversation don’t disappear when we walk through the door of the office and it’s time we recognize that. The bottom line: be human. Recognize human instincts. Your employees are not machines.
Many employees wonder: should I be using personal email at work? The answer is: probably not! Hooking up to your personal email through a work server or internet connection poses some serious risks for your company, including IP theft, company and/or customer privacy and disruptions to network operations. Basically, doing so could violate a lot of company agreements. Check in with your HR department about specific rules regarding personal email in the workplace. If all else fails, just check your personal email on your personal phone over your lunch hour.
Personal Phone Calls
What about making and taking personal phone calls at work? Each company has their own policies regarding phone calls and text messages, but there are several guidelines you should consider. Often, employees in an office setting are provided with a business phone and expected to use that for making all work-related calls. Many companies monitor all calls going to and from their company phones, so be mindful when and how often you use them and limit company phone use to work-related calls.
It’s understood that personal matters will come up during the workday and you should deal with issues as they come up, but try to be mindful of taking up company time. When taking phone calls, keep them short, professional, and to the point. If it needs to be a longer discussion, consider stepping outside to take the call, or waiting for your lunch break. Texting and calling can wind up being a big time suck if you’re not careful, so check in with your company’s specific personal phone call at work policy to learn more about what you should and shouldn’t do.
Although we’d all rather they didn’t, personal and family emergencies do happen. What constitutes a family emergency excuse? It’s going to look different for each individual family, of course, but environmental danger and death are the two biggest categories.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects all public agencies, public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees. The FMLA legally requires employers to provide employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for any of the following family emergency excuses:
- The birth and care of a newborn child of the employee
- The adoption or foster care of a child by the employee
- An immediate family member with a serious health condition who needs care by the employee
- The employee themselves has a serious health condition and is unable to work
- A car accident or similar accident affecting the employee or one of their immediate family members
- A death or funeral of an immediate family member
- A natural disaster or other outside force that has put the employee, their family, or their livelihood at risk
- A threat of emotional or physical damage
- Anything else that can cause trauma or detriment to an employee of their immediate family
Consider this as a guideline but not a comprehensive list of all things that can constitute a personal or family emergency. Talk to a supervisor or HR when something like the above comes up and keep in mind: these things happen to everyone and we all need to adapt and take care of things in our own way.
If you need to write an excuse letter for being absent in work due to an emergency, check out this guide by Balanced Careers as a good starting point.
Managing a Work/Life Balance
Phew! Ok, now that the serious stuff is out of the way, let’s talk about how to separate work and personal life. Below are some tips on how you can accomplish this and stay fulfilled both inside and outside of the office.
You wear many hats in your day to day life and sometimes your roles will overlap, but the most important thing you can do to balance your work and personal life is set up healthy boundaries! While this is going to look different for everyone, think about ways you can build a fence between who you are at home vs at the office. Does this mean not working over your lunch hour? Leaving your work phone at the office at the end of the day? These kinds of healthy boundaries will lead to a healthier you!
Set a Schedule
Make a schedule for yourself and try to keep it consistent! If you get into the office and leave around the same time every day, you’re less likely to let your work bleed into your personal life and vice versa. Do you need to leave early every other Friday to pick up your son up from Boy Scouts? Make that a part of your set schedule and the two sides of your life will definitely stay more in their own lanes.
Leave the Office
This one may seem obvious, but far too many employees find themselves staying late at the office out of habit, or out of a desire to appear more invested to their coworkers. While this may earn you some short-term points with the rat-racers of the office, staying late at work ultimately degrades the quality of your personal life and makes it harder for you to separate from the job. Leave the office at the end of the day! Go home! Enjoy life!
Alright, we covered a lot of ground! From personal conversations in the workplace, to the use of personal assets and the grounds for personal emergencies, there are endless issues that arise when trying to balance your personal and work life. But follow this guide and use common sense in the office and we’re sure you’re on the way to not only a more productive workplace, but a more well-rounded you!
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