The wisdom of the water cooler: Why it pays to let your employees socialize

Coffee KlatchAs a business owner, do you get impatient when you see employees standing around chewing the fat? Try thinking about it another way. By establishing close social connections, your employees are doing something very positive for the company.

Giving your employees a chance to develop personal friendships means they’ll be better able to work as a team. Blake Ashforth, a management professor at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, agrees that building these social ties can be good for business. “When you come to know people on a personal level,” he says, “you’re far more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt and to have goodwill in your dealings. And that’s a tremendous buffer against the itches and pains of everyday life in organizations.”

Small companies have an advantage over large ones here. The most cost-effective (and probably the  most powerful) way to promote this feeling of belonging and connection is to allow room for it to happen organically. In large corporations, these sorts of social ties — beyond those with immediate co-workers — have to be created artificially, through team-building exercises or other initiatives that employees are likely to find sort of hokey. Small companies generally have their people all under one roof, and few enough employees that they all bump up against each other every day. 

These relationships are built one water cooler conversation at a time. Try not to begrudge your team the time to socialize. It will pay off down the road when they’re better able to problem solve together or to work as a tight team to meet a challenging deadline. At Tribe, our people spend a lot of the day laughing and teasing and telling stories. But I think that’s part of why we’re such an incredibly productive company, despite our small staff. 

Personal connections among your staff members — and with you — can also build loyalty to your company. When people feel like they belong, that they’re cared about, that they’re appreciated for who they are as people as well as employees, they’re far less likely to be looking around for other opportunities.


3 responses to “The wisdom of the water cooler: Why it pays to let your employees socialize

  1. This piece makes excellent points about the value of friendships at work for small as well as for large businesses. When people are the most important (and most costly) resource, it’s important to eliminate barriers for employees to call upon one another.
    I’m working with hospitals to turn around teams that have lost that feeling of friendship. Some units have become bogged down in bitterness and some are just lacking the spark that comes from a vibrant workgroup.
    The proactive step is to support employees sharing time and ideas. The responsive step is to address teams that have become stuck in rude or neglectful behavior.
    All the best,

  2. Thanks for your comment, Michael. I checked out your site and CREW looks like a great approach. I have a cousin using a slightly similar approach with nursing home staffs in Georgia. I want to let her know about your book coming out later this year.

  3. Elizabeth

    A great site you have going here!

    The book on work engagement coming out later this year will bring together the leading researchers from around the world. They make convincing cases for the power of work engagement as a motivational and inspirational experience. And they provide rigorous data to demonstrate that thoughtful management and well considered initiatives make a difference to employees’ fulfillment and the bottom line. It’s been great working with this team to produce the book.

    And please ask your cousin to contact me. I’d love to hear about her work. We’re finding continuing care settings to be very interested in CREW. The quality of teamwork has a direct line to patient care as well as to the recruitment and retention of high quality employees.

    Bit Stuff.

    All the beset,

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