Talking can be healthy in the workplace, it can create an atmosphere of collaboration and effective teamwork.  However, it becomes a problem when talking in the workplace negatively affects productivity.  A Manager’s normal reaction is to passively address the problem. A Manager’s course of action can range from walking over to the conversation in hopes of stopping the employees from talking or negatively addressing employees to stop the conversation. In the short term, this may be effective but it does not address real issues as to why employees are having regular extended conversations. Use the following steps to improve employee productivity by addressing talking in the workplace.

  1. Identify the conversation

When productivity slows down because of talking it is usually because of conversations that take place several times a day by the same employees.  Listen to what the employees are saying.  That’s not to suggest that a manager should eavesdrop on their employees.  However, if they are talking openly around the coffee maker or water cooler and are within earshot, it can be helpful to ascertain what they were talking about.   Were they partially talking about work and that led to a new conversation?  Were they having a private conversation about a family member who had an emergency?  The relevance of the conversation should determine the manager’s reaction.  Sometimes employees will engage with other employees because they cannot address their problem at home.  Other times employees will seek out someone to talk to because they are unengaged in their work.  Identifying the main theme of a typical conversation will help to determine the best reaction.

  1. Have a delicate conversation with the talkative employees

Sometimes you just have to say it.  Address the behavior by either asking the employees if there is a problem or directly identifying what was observed as unproductive time.  Although private conversation about an employee’s health is off limits most other conversations at work are not.  This direct approach will sometimes bring forward workplace problems that need to be addressed or family issues that have a direct effect on the employee’s ability to work.  However, the conversation will typically lead to positive results.  It brings forward concerns that might otherwise have been left unaddressed.  Addressing excessive talking at work can also send a message that even though the employer wants to have an engaged staff, there is still work to be done.  If there are no major problems that need to be addressed, a manager might suggest that the talkative employees have a regularly scheduled lunch off the clock.  This will encourage breaks and move unproductive conversation off-site.

  1. Re-evaluate job descriptions

Unengaged employees will often seek out people to talk to because they do not want to do the work that is in front of them.  Reviewing a talkative employee’s job description and assigning them more engaging work should be the first step before any disciplinary actions are taken. This step is especially important for employees who have performed well in the past.

Questions to think about: Is there more challenging work available?  Has the employee ever expressed an interest in another type of work within the company?  Has the employee’s job changed?  Is there a training that they can take to improve skills and engagement?  Re-evaluating an employee’s job description to match their skills can re-engage them and reduce unnecessary talking.

Talking in the workplace can be healthy and can create a collaborative work environment where employees are engaged and inspired.  However, excessive talking can reduce productivity by becoming disruptive to the employees talking as well as those around them.  Determining why excessive conversations are happening can help guide a manager towards the best approach for addressing the unwanted behavior.  A direct conversation with the talkative employees can lead to re-establishing a balance within the workplace.  Review of a job description can determine if the excessive talking can be managed through development.

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