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How the Water Cooler Will Help Your Business

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Bring back open communication in the workplace – it’s good for business… and, it’s good for your staff.

A colleague told me that at every Monday morning staff meetings, staffers of all levels would have a few minutes to share something they learned about their job, an observation about their industry, or even a happy family event. They would review the latest company project, and offer their uncensored comments in what was considered safe and neutral territory. It led to some of their best ideas. Even chatting at the water cooler will help your business.

This created a bond between the workers and management, a situation that would not have existed had it not been for the 30 minutes or so every week that the group got to know everyone a little bit better, or heard about suggestion that might improve profits, or bring something new to the office environment, or really told it like it was, no matter how popular or unpopular the idea.

This kind of communication – even the chitchat around the water cooler – always went a long way towards the development of richer and deeper employee relationships, which, in turn, improved morale and productivity. But I fear that this notion is withering, dying, and ready for the last rites.

Why?

For a whole host of reasons.

  • More and more businesses are downsizing, or outsourcing, which means fewer employees for one thing, and fewer opportunities for mingling, and meeting up at the coffee station.
  • Also, businesses are going the way of part time workers, or using more temps, which means more unfamiliarity in the office as people come and go without time or a reason to socialize.
  • Lastly, we as a society get so offended, and have become a more litigious society. We are ready to sue over minor transgressions. Employee handbooks went through a major rewrite in recent years due to new rules on sexual discrimination, or off color comments, or over cultural differences; mandatory classes were given on how to avoid personnel issues in the workplace; and more topics were more taboo so that we just, as they say in submarine movies, “went silent.”
     

And that is just a sad state of affairs.

Basically I am arguing that we need to institute processes that encourage more informal communication, something I like to refer to as the “water cooler” concept. Offices should have open spaces for informal conversations, break rooms to get coffee, reasons to step away from the cubicle and to encourage face to face responses, rather than emails to the person across the room. My old boss used to walk through the various departments and ask if his employees had everything they needed, or if there were ideas to make improvements. It provided for positive and relaxed interactions that sometimes generated a new idea, but always generated good feelings.

Loosen up your organization by trying some of these ideas:

  • Pay for staff lunches, or family-friendly after-hour activities, and offer incentives to encourage all staffers to take part;
  • Include part-time staff in all activities; encourage and promote efforts to showcase new employees;
  • Provide cozy spaces for lunch and coffee breaks;
    Support health and wellness with informative sessions on kicking the smoking habit, fitness, weight loss, nutrition;
  • Offer opportunities for staff to attend cultural events in the community with their families and do informal reviews for colleagues. Offer these tickets in a monthly raffle, but make sure that everyone gets a turn.
     

The goal should be to encourage informal communication, improve social relations, and let your most valued resource – your employees – know that their lives, their suggestions, and their place in your business is valued.

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