Why the water cooler should be a gathering place for your employees

November 2, 2018 By    
Employee around water cooler stock: Spend some casual time around the water cooler, strike up a personal conversation. Photo iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia

Employee around water cooler stock: Spend some casual time around the water cooler, strike up a personal conversation. Photo iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia

In today’s electronic world, people tend to sit in their cubicles and browse social media rather than get out of the office chairs and mingle with co-workers. It’s so important to company culture for employees to have the opportunity to collaborate and discuss both personal and business affairs that affect them.

I worked for a big telecom company as an HR director. I had over 600 people in my division under my watch. My office was adjacent to one of the kitchen spaces that housed a water cooler. This provided me with a perfect opportunity to connect with many employees, managers of other business functions and even senior leaders who were not in my direct line of sight.

I could write pages and pages of what I heard about the company. This information was sometimes very positive and at other times not so much.

Let’s break down just a few of the positives of water cooler conversations:

  • It helps bring people out of their shells.

Remember we live in an electronic world and social anxiety is not uncommon. People often leave jobs because they aren’t comfortable with the place in which they work. As we know, turnover is very costly. This is one area that will keep business leaders and CEOs up at night. Water cooler dialogue is just one small thing that can keep our employees engaged.

  • It can be a great opportunity to socialize with management.

We want our management staff to be available, but sometimes that doesn’t appear to be the case when the perception is they are “too busy” to mingle. Get out there, managers! Spend some casual time around the water cooler and strike up a personal conversation. Ask about families, interests outside the office and introduce other colleagues, managers and new employees.

  • Productive conversation.

Relaxed conversation may lead to brainstorming and collaboration on existing and/or new business ideas that could increase productivity and bottom-line revenue. I’ve witnessed this. One of my staff members was working on a solution for on-call pay. He was challenged with some of the nuances required. Some team members and I talked about it around the water cooler for a short time and then moved the conversation to my office. We ended up with a policy that was implemented in the business segments that managed on-call operations for the whole company.

Let’s look at what we don’t want to see discussed around the water cooler:

  • No drama, no gossip at the water cooler.

We all know the people in our offices who thrive on drama. Personal, business or other. This type of chatter is counterproductive and, in some cases, can be career suicide. Gossip, whether negative or positive, can be fatal. In my experience, I was forced to dismiss an employee for destructive gossip that caused a work team to miss a critical deadline, which, in turn, damaged the company’s reputation.

 

  • Steer away from engaging in political or religious conversations.

We all know that both topics are front and center today. However, these topics might be tension filled and do not have a place in the work arena. General rule of thumb: These topics are better left at the door when you arrive at the workplace.

  • Don’t discuss salary or promotions.

You might be excited about a current pay increase or promotion that you received. Even though you are happy and excited about the news, sharing it could cause angst and anxiety for co-workers who didn’t receive the same accolades.

Overall, water cooler discussions are productive and they generally bring employees together and increase overall engagement in the company. If you are an employee or a manager, make sure you engage in the water cooler chatter at your office. You never know what you might learn.


Ask Cathy Wallace of San Isabel Services Propane in Pueblo West, Colorado, about employee-related issues.

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