Do you have a water cooler in your offices? Is it a focal point for discussions on last nights episode of Game of Thrones or the Man U/Chelsea game? Maybe it’s not a water cooler perhaps it’s the kettle or microwave. It doesn’t really matter as conversations are taking place in your office that you probably aren’t party to. People are chatting about everyday occurrences that make work a sociable place to be. Or, on the other hand, they could be raising legitimate concerns that you know nothing about.
Positives of the Water Cooler Chats
Having these opportunities for people to meet and talk about things other than work can have great positives for both the individual and the organisation.
For many the social interaction that coming to work affords is what makes working something pleasant to do. That shared laugh about the issues with the photocopier (again) all give individuals a sense of belonging and can make work colleagues more like family.
Using a water cooler for its intended purpose as well as a chatting space has been proven to have health benefits to employees also. Research has shown that hydration has positive effects on cognitive performance. Recently Maento et al they found that …
Severe dehydration has been shown to cause cognitive deficits such as short-term memory and visual perceptual abilities as well as mood disturbance, whereas water consumption can improve cognitive performance, particularly visual attention and mood.1
Negatives of the Water Cooler Moans
Not all conversations will be so positive. While the issues with the photocopier might start out as a bit of a laugh it may become a wider conversation on how this is symptomatic of the current company culture.
The likelihood is that senior management will be none the wiser about any of these conversations taking place until it is much too late. Without this knowledge it is going to be difficult to do something about.
Maybe you don’t have a water cooler or some other focal point for these sorts of discussions. This can lead to other unforeseen issues too such as workplace isolation. Despite the move to more open plan working, more employees are saying they feel greater isolation. Gallup found that only 2 in 10 agreed with the statement “Do you have a best friend at work?” Having such a focal point can help in ways that might not be immediately obvious.
Ultimately what’s important is that you encourage a culture to allow open conversations… wherever they may be and (remember and fix that photocopier!)