how much socializing at work is too much?

A reader writes:

I am a low level manager at an office of 35 employees and we’re fairly autonomous in managing our workload. We have flex time, people work different hours, and as long as your work is done in a timely and quality way, then management usually leaves you to your own devices.

We’re a pretty social and casual group, so it’s no big deal for people to socialize with one another to a certain extent. However, I’ve recently noticed that there seem to be more frequent, prolonged socializing sessions with some groups of people. I would guess it’s 3-5 days a week for 45 minutes or more. I think they probably start out as work-related conversations but then wander into more social territory. Is this pretty typical? My concern is that people are getting a little too relaxed at work and putting off the actual work that needs to be done and then quality is suffering (quality is hard to measure in my job so this is something difficult to track). My concern with addressing it is that it would kill morale. So if you think it does need to be addressed, how would you do so?

It’s pretty normal for work-related conversations to wander into social directions, but if people are having 45-minute or longer social conversations most days of the week, that’s a lot for most jobs. (That assumes they’re not simultaneously working on something that doesn’t require much focus.) And asking people to return their focus to work is fine, as is digging into whether they have enough to do.

But I’m more concerned that you say you can’t really assess their work — because you can’t manage people if you can’t assess their work.

It’s certainly true that some jobs have easier metrics than others, but every job needs to have a way to assess performance. People need to be able to measure themselves against whatever outcomes are expected, and they need to know how their manager will be measuring them — and as a manager, you need to have a very clear picture of what successful performance in any role you supervise looks like so that you know when people are and aren’t meeting that bar.

If you don’t have that clear picture, focus on fixing that first. Your staff members need outcome-based goals (outcome-based means goals that answer not “what activities will you do?” but rather “what results will you achieve?”) that are stated clearly enough that both you and they will be able to know whether they’ve been met or not. If you’re having trouble creating those, enlist your staff in helping. Ask yourself and them: What does this work look like when we’ve done it successfully? How do we know it’s been successful? What’s the difference between someone doing this job really well and doing a more mediocre version of it?

Once you can assess people’s performance based on the results they’re getting, then dealing with the socializing becomes much easier. Are people meeting their goals and getting the results you’re looking for? If so, and they still have a lot of time every day for socializing, do you need to revisit the goals? If they’re not meeting those goals, then you focus on that — and will often solve the socializing problem in that process.

If they’re not meeting their goals and you talk with them about that but the same high level of socializing continues, then you can get more explicit about decreasing the social time — but that would also be a flag that there’s likely a broader problem.

{ 158 comments… read them below }

  1. Snark

    Yow. I can see a 45-minute conversation cropping up, like, the day before a major holiday and the office is dead as a doornail, but 3-5 days a week, every week? There’s no way productivity isn’t sliding, and quality too.

    1. Rose's angel

      I have coworkers that do this for multiple hours a day everyday. Our jobs are hard to measure because we are managed/ supervised by one person but everyone in my department is part of a project team (which changes depending on the project and who is available). So unless the team lead complains theres no way to measure that everything is getting done. When my boss noticed these coworkers regularly talking for hours at a time she went to HR. HR told her not to care so long as their work was getting done.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        This is our general response too. Jobs are being done and there’s not a large mistake percentage. We track complaints and if they’re due to our errors or just done out of courtesy. So if that spikes, we know that we should look deeper and find the root cause. Sometimes it’s because someone isn’t trained right, sometimes it’s because someone is slacking off or talking too much but if they’re showing themselves to be keeping up and doing well, there’s no need to crack a whip at them. We value people’s comfort and happiness, nitpicking for no solid quickly runs good employees out in the end.

        1. RUKiddingMe

          “…no need to crack a whip at them. We value people’s comfort and happiness, nitpicking for no solid quickly runs good employees out in the end.”

          +100

        2. Snark

          I mean, I agree, broadly. I’m posting on here at work, I got nothing to say to anybody who manages their time and output with some diversions scattered in.

          But….45 minutes a day, 3-5 days a week of chatting? In addition, I’m sure, to getting coffee, the occasional snack, lunch, work-related conversations, etc? That’s GOT to have an effect – on productivity, on quality, on the general ability of everyone to focus, on email responsiveness, whatever. It’s just too much time.

          1. Busy

            I watch this play out ALL DAY LONG. Lets set aside not getting work done. Cuz lets face it, 45 minutes 3 or days a week? You might not have enough to do if something isn’t sliding. But there is a bigger issue with this, and that is perception.

            The people who work around me (a group of about 3 -4) really enjoy the social side of work. But they are Disruptive. Massively disruptive.

            But even when they are not, it reflects soooooo badly on their departments. When there are issues, or the need for additional resources, or whatever, do you know what management of other departments start to point out? Why do these people have so much time to talk, yet you are telling me you are producing work quickly enough/need additional resources/have professional employees in your department? Optics still matter.

            1. Busy

              Oh, and I forgot to add – it is not just those people. It is anyone around them as well who get sucked into being labeled as “screwing off” – when in reality it is only a minority not working. Casual observers wouldn’t see that it is only a handful of people just by the way we are laid out and how they yell/talk to each other across cubes.

              1. JSPA

                And anyone around them who’s not able to focus!

                That, actually, would be another useful metric. Asking others “how often are you distracted by coworkers to the point where you have to work harder to focus, to prevent mistakes” / “do you ever change your work hours to avoid noise and distraction when certain people are in the office” is how I’d investigate.

                Nobody should be coming in at 5:30 (AM or PM) not because they love working mornings or evenings, but because they dread the mid-afternoon yappery session.

          2. IndoorCat

            Sometimes it just has to do with people having a wide variety of speed and accuracy at the same tasks. Or, it’s a thing where your job is solely meeting face-to-face with clients (like my last job) but most people don’t have all seven hour-long slots booked every day, so you have a random empty hour. Maybe a last-minute client will come in, so you can’t, like, go somewhere else, but if I and another employee happen to have the same random hour free and we get along, we’ll talk for the whole hour in an area where we wouldn’t interrupt others.

            Or, in my current job, I personally am a teapot documents writer. Once I’ve got all the information, I write the teapot documents. Sometimes I get the documents back for revision, but usually they’re great and ready to go. In theory, I can write two teapot documents per day because I can write quickly, even though the other teapot documents writer spends all day on just one teapot paper.

            In practice, when I request information necessary for the next teapot document on the agenda after already doing one today, I hear “let me get back to you,” or, “I thought that info isn’t due until tomorrow?” Or, I do eventually get the next info for the next teapot document, but not until right before the end of the day.

            While I usually have background tasks I could do, I also wouldn’t be against having a social conversation if someone else was also done with today’s work and just waiting around for information for tomorrow’s work. I could definitely see an environment where that happens a lot for a handful of people.

            And, to be honest, I sort-of would resent it, I think, if that did happen and then my manager shut it down, for exact reason Alison gave: I’m acing all the metrics. It’s a small enough business that we don’t need more than two teapot document writers, but I’m surpassing my initial goals, not to mention the output by the other writer, who *does* have time management issues and often needs to revise her documents past the deadline. If she were given more leeway to finish her work due to her poor time management, but my workday ended up being more micromanaged just due to my efficient document writing style, I could see myself pushing back.

            1. Glitsy Gus

              THe way your job works is very similar to my job as well. I do have work to do, but it is not unusual for me to find myself with 45 minutes or so on any given day to be at a place where I can’t really do anything effective until I hear back from other people. I have a few housekeeping type tasks that I can usually take care of, but they are not at all time sensitive or urgent, so if someone else is chilling in the office kitchen I’ll stop for a chat.

              The interesting part is I often end up getting a lot more of the information I need during the course of these mostly social chats than I do from the emails. There can be a lot to be said for informal conversation as a way to grease the gears in many office situations.

            2. Commenter

              “In practice, when I request information necessary for the next teapot document on the agenda after already doing one today, I hear “let me get back to you,” or, “I thought that info isn’t due until tomorrow?” Or, I do eventually get the next info for the next teapot document, but not until right before the end of the day.”

              I find this interesting – would it not make sense to request the info ahead of time, so that it might arrive before you’re finished the previous document? Like request info for Doc B when you start working on Doc A, so that when you’re done with A, you have the info you need to get started on B, and can then request the info for Doc C while you’re working on B, etc?

              1. Fortitude Jones

                She can make those requests as early as she likes, but if the people responsible for getting her that info don’t get her what she asks for until she’s already done with a document and is waiting around, there’s not much she can do about that. My job is the same – I’m a proposal writer at a company where our sales team and SME’s write the majority of our content, and I revise it/rewrite it as needed. If I request content from them when they’re already working on another proposal or their actual jobs (a lot of these people are engineers), I’m not getting anything until my actual deadline. So if I didn’t have other things to do, I too would have large gaps of time where I was just waiting around and would need to occupy my time with socializing to stay awake. (Luckily, I’m in a role with a ton of work and things I could be doing, and I work from home, so this break time stuff isn’t a thing for me anymore.)

              2. Marmaduke

                I’ve worked in a couple of jobs where we wanted the most recent information possible, and were asked to wait to gather the information until we actually start work on the document. I’m not sure how common or uncommon that is outside of the research field.

          3. Bagpuss

            I think it does depend hugelt on the work and the people.

            There is one department in my office which does work which is high pressure and involves a lot of tight detail.
            The members of that department spend a lot of time chatting – they are contantly in and out of each other’s rooms, and a lot of the talk is social. BUT they are, individually and as a group, very productive, they hit their targets, they get work done in a timely way. They tend to come in early and stay late.
            The way they work would not work for m at all, but it works for them. I think the pressure they get from clients etc meas that the mutual support, and the decompression from chatting a lot helps to enable them to cope .
            And a lot of them do stay late or come in early, partly becuase there are some elements of the job where they need to be able to focus uninterrupted which is much easier before the phocalls start…
            My co-owner and I take the view that having a department full of people who work well together, support each other and cover effectively when someone is out, and get goos results is a huge benefit to our business, and the fact that it might *feel* they were working more efficiently if they didn’t spend so much time socialising, the reality is that they would probably be less productive, with more burn out, and more people making aoidable errors because they aren’t taking time to relax a little between tasks.

            I think in OPs cae, she neds to find ways to assess how effectively these members of her team are working, and whether the time they spend socialising is in fact an issue or not.

            If the peopl involved are paid hourly or do only work set hous then I think there is a stronger case for addressing it with them and curtailing the amounts of time spent.

      2. Knitter

        This is a problem with a colleague of mine, but she is very good at identifying the work that is the least time consuming but most visible. Our jobs are so intertwined right now that it is hard for my boss to be able to measure her output. So I’ve pushed for our jobs to be un-intertwined…and won. We’ll have separate caseloads soon. I can’t wait. I think she’ll still find ways to socialize most of the day (and try to make it look like she is “collaborating”), but hopefully it will be more obvious she isn’t also getting her work done.

      3. Snark

        I mean, yeah, but my counter is right there in your answer: if the only metric is whether the team lead objects, how does anybody know whether it’s not affecting productivity? Or, could productivity and quality be higher?

        I could cram a lot of what I do into a tighter time slot and carve out 45 minutes to chat. And stuff would still get done, and probably usually on time, but not as well and not to as high a standard.

    2. Emily K

      My only question is whether this 45 minutes is in addition to a lunch hour or in lieu of it.

      Where I work we’re all salaried with lots of flexibility. Our schedules allow for a 60-minute lunch, but I can only think of 1 person on my team of 30 people who actually regularly blocks off an hour every day during which he does no work. The rest of us it would honestly be a pipe dream to even attempt to sit with your lunch for an hour and not have someone who needed something from you.

      So what happens is people tend to allow their breaks to be interrupted by work, or they eat lunch at their desk while working because something came up, and then they feel entitled to take more spontaneous breaks as the day allows, figuring that 1) it’s not going to add up to any more time than a lunch would have taken and 2) if they didn’t get something done one day because they stopped by Ferdinand’s office to chat for 30 minutes, they’re just going to have to put in time at home, and nobody really cares whether they did 6 hours of work in the office or 5 hours of work and 1 hour of socializing in the office and 1 hour of work at home.

      So, if this is 45 minutes of standing around socializing in addition to having an hour blocked off for lunch during which they do no work, that’s definitely excessive – but if you have a bunch of salaried staff who have been granted flexibility and they’re all eating at their desks most days, maybe this 45 minutes is just the downtime they’re using instead of taking a proper lunch, because that was spontaneously the time of day during which they had just finished a task and went to take a break and nobody came to interrupt them with any pressing needs, so they stayed on break longer, but overall they’re still putting in full workdays.

      Agree with Alison that being able to assess their work is critical. The more flexibility you grant people in where and when they work, the more you need to be able to judge whether their work output is adequate based on something other than hours logged.

    3. DanniellaBee

      In my office this happens frequently but we use our lunch hour for it. It is not uncommon for almost everyone to sit together at the noon hour and have fun conversations. I wish the author had clarified when in the day this is happening.

      1. WellRed

        My guess is its happening at varied and random times and is not in lieu of lunch but rather is people losing track of time.

      2. Snark

        I feel like that’s kind of the exception that proves the rule; I’m assuming this is during work time.

    4. Kendra

      This does seem like something that’s really field- and job-dependent. For example, in the library I run, three of my direct reports are in customer service-type roles, and if I saw them chatting for 45 minutes and either ignoring people (or just making them feel uncomfortable with approaching them because they didn’t want to interrupt), I’d have some pretty major concerns.

      But my programs person? She’s had some absolutely amazing ideas for activities and community outreach come out of long conversations with her officemate, because her thought process works best when she’s verbalizing it. Similarly, the officemate is mostly doing book repair & processing (putting on labels & dust jackets, that type of thing), neither of which require a huge amount of focus, so it’s usually helpful for him to have a conversation going on so that he doesn’t doze off at his desk (he also listens to a LOT of podcasts). It honestly wouldn’t bother me to hear the two of them chatting all day long.

      1. Anonymeece

        Ha! Just saw your comment – I work in a library below and was just saying our best program ideas have come from talking to coworkers just about whatever we read last night, or even complaining about something that leads to a new idea on how to do it.

        1. Kendra

          Or stealing – er, borrowing, I mean! – ideas from other libraries; that’s a good way to come up with stuff, too!

      2. Jasnah

        I think that’s the key point here. You have to be good enough (and not distracting others) to the point that it doesn’t matter how much you’re chatting. If you notice how much they’re chatting, maybe they’re not good enough to slack off that obviously.

    5. Anonymeece

      Honestly… we do this at my office. And we’re all high-performing people. In our case, the conversations will start off work-related, slide into social, then we’ll say something that pings a new idea for a work idea. My coworker and I were walking to our cars one night and got caught up in a two-hour conversation that ended up yielding a fantastic new idea that we decided to implement in the fall. (And I realize that was after work, but it’s happened during work too, though not quite for 2 hours).

      I can see how in some offices it would be a problem, but I’d take a really hard look at whether or not productivity has really gone down before making a blanket assumption.

    6. Fortitude Jones

      The only time I had that much time to chat that regularly was in my last position where I didn’t have enough work to do. When I was a claims adjuster and, before that, when I was working at a law firm, people were lucky if they got five minutes of conversation out of me, lol. We just had entirely too much to get done and our phones were ringing constantly.

      My last job, I would ask for more stuff to do and get the brush off from my manager, so I said eff it and used my ample free time to online shop, walk around and talk, and run errands. *shrugs*

    7. Coverallyourbases

      We don’t know if some of these gabbers are on their lunch breaks, do we? Sometimes people work through lunch or half work and half take lunch but might feel more entitled to chat openly if they’re on a break.

      I might be missing something, and I agree 3-5 times a week for 45 minutes each chat sesh seems excessive, but what if they’re working through lunch? I don’t leave my office most days BUT if someone popped in and started chatting around 1, I would probably consider it a break if it was someone I wanted to chat with. If it was our company Debbie Downer or Betty Bitchy, I’d definitely be “sooooo busy!” and “in the middle of a huge project!” Lolol.

  2. Celeste

    That’s a lot of socializing. Do people have enough work to do? Because this amount of social time (when you say the work is getting done) makes me think that killing time feels like part of their job description. I hope that doesn’t sound harsh, but it’s really what jumped out at me.

    1. Coverallyourbases

      Not harsh – you sound realistic.

      Let’s see how often they’re taking 45 minute chat breaks if half of them are given the old heave-ho. Less chatting, more productivity!

      I know I’d feel annoyed if this was happening at my organization, since most of us barely have time to use the restroom some days. And yes, that happens and no. I’m not exaggerating. Today I got in at 8:50 am and hand to God I realized at 2:45 pm when I was about to burst that I hadn’t used the restroom once all day. And I drink a LOT of water.

  3. The Cosmic Avenger

    I don’t think we’re quite that bad, but we do talk a lot. But those talks often range from personal to work and back, many times during one conversation. For example, talk about weekend plans, days off, things that need to get done over the next week, oh, I can help you with that now, or let’s meet next Wednesday then. I know it may not be that way in every workplace, but we are a fairly close team, and although we are more involved in each others’ personal lives than the average workplace, we also work more efficiently together because of it.

    tl;dr version, if the work is getting done, what seems like excessive socializing could be a net plus.

    1. Librarianne

      It’s the same for me. It only came out during a casual, social conversation that one employee didn’t really understand the work being done in another department. I was able to explain their work in a way that wasn’t condescending or preachy because we were on friendly terms. I’ve also gotten assigned to certain committees or projects because of an interest I expressed in a not-strictly-work-related conversation.

    2. Kate

      I want to second this!

      I used to work in a job that was very very very judgement-dependent. While we had a lot of time to make that judgement, once we did, it would have legal ramifications for years to come.

      I’m not exaggerating when I say we had these types of 45 min long conversations 5-10 times per week. Yeah they often drifted into social stuff, but just as often they drifted back to the topics at hand, where we would think out loud, compare old cases, game-theory the problem out, etc.

      Now that I am back in the political world, I often miss this time desperately. Imagine how different our politicians’ decisions could look if instead of rushing from decision to decision and going sound bite to sound bite, we actually took the time to dissect an issue, play it out, consider other viewpoints or a tweak in the approach?

  4. AbaxSC

    OP also needs to consider if nearby employees are distracted or bothered. Even if it isn’t loud, extended chichat for that length of time could be hard to tune out.

    1. anonymuss and fuss

      This x1000. In a cube farm/open office, even with noise cancelling headphones, if you’re right by the socializing group it’s so distracting. At ex-job I was right by the popular candy-dish/other food-haver who very nearly hosted a salon in their cube multiple times a day. It was much too much. Management let it go on for way too long and eventually dealt with it really poorly in a really morale-killing way. There has to have been a better way to deal with it, but it really did need to end.
      It feels like this is one of those indistinctly-defined professional rules: a certain amount of socializing and breaks is ok, but it’s hard to know how much. But it’s really clear–to everyone else–when it’s tipped the balance into too much.

    2. BRR

      This is separate in my opinion but please LW take this into account. My last job had a group. That would socialize for at least an hour each morning and take almost two hour lunches (I sat by the kitchen) every day. It was so hard to get my own work done.

    3. nnn

      Yes, that’s what I came to post! When I worked in a cube farm, the hardest part of my job was not the work itself, but trying to do the work while people were socializing, especially since, given the population of our office and the frequency of the socializing, the socializing happened all day.

      (Unfortunately, my cube was within earshot of the break room, so they were already in the “right” place to be socializing.)

      1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula

        Back at ToxicJob, my cube was by the office of a manager who was VERY chatty, and there would be lots of lengthy conversations between him and his social circle. I just tuned out and kept working, but then Chatty Manager’s manager seemed to think that because I didn’t join in the conversations, this meant I disliked Chatty Manager (I liked him fine, I just didn’t have time for all the yakking) and then Chatty Manager’s manager was telling others what a terrible person I was for hating Chatty Manager.

      2. Fiddlesticks

        This is what I came to post too. My previous job was in a *&%$# cube farm and the openness made it WAY too easy for the people who didn’t really want to be working to talk over the cubicles, stand around in groups, linger at each other desks, and basically goof off for hours while making it impossible for people who wanted/needed to get work done to concentrate. I don’t care how good your noise cancelling headphones are, when six people are standing across from you BA HA HA’ing over the latest internet cat memes (and I love cat memes, ok?) or flying model helicopters (yes, really), there is no way any normal person can be productive and happy. OP should worry at least as much about her non-socializing employees’ morale and productivity as the overly-socializing ones!

        1. Washi

          Ugh, yes. In my last cube farm, the side walls were only waist-high and I had the outermost-cubicle to the hall, which meant that to talk to my neighbor, people would often lean over my cubicle and have a conversation across me. People would move if I asked them to, but it was still super distracting and they didn’t seem to get the message that they shouldn’t start their conversations by shouting over my space.

    4. The Other Dawn

      I agree. I see nothing wrong with socializing during work; however, it can be really frustrating when others are socializing near your desk for extended periods and you can’t concentrate. But that’s when you use your words and ask them to speak softer or take it elsewhere.

      Also, I agree mostly that as long as work is getting done, it shouldn’t matter if you socialize, but it can seem excessive even then if it’s 45+ minutes at a time.

    5. MechanicalPencil

      So much this. There was one day that the conversation over in the jovial corner sounded like it was background noise for a pub, and I was trying to participate in a conference call at my desk. There were times I literally could not hear the call even though I’m wearing a headset, so the noise is just.right.there.

  5. Elizabeth

    Ugh, socializing. Why can’t people just do their work and socialize own their own time with their own friends?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      It’s work, not prison. A large portion of the working population aren’t anti-social beings and just want to stay strictly business at work, jeez. It goes both ways for extremes.

      1. RUKiddingMe

        Even anti-social me understands needing to speak, socially-ish to other humans with whom you are stuck 8-20 hours a day…

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch

          Yep yep. I’m actually super introverted and awkward IRL. Humans drain my energy batteries, I am very particular about whom I spend free time around because if I don’t like you, you can leave, etc. I hate crowded loud places but if I know people, even casually as work acquaintances, it’s really like come on now, theyr’e humans that you know, ffs!

          I do well on the internet because it’s text and not chatter in my ear-holes.

      2. DerJungerLudendorff

        Unless you’re actually a prisoner doing forced (unpaid) labour of course.

        But thats a whole nother mess entirely. And even they would like to talk with each other.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Lots of people like their coworkers, or at least enjoy chatting with them since they’re around them eight hours a day. You’ve got a pretty outlier stance there.

      1. MOAS

        Really? I honestly feel like over the years, I’ve read about more people who have Elizabeth’s stance than the opposite, some more hard-line than others.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch

          They’re just speaking up more. It really depends on the office culture.

          Casual and flat structure have gradually taken over a lot of spaces!

        2. NW Mossy

          Another piece of this is where you’re doing that reading. People who enjoy face-to-face socializing with their colleagues are simply doing it, rarely pausing to comment on online forums like this one to say so. Those who don’t care for in-work socializing tend to favor online/email interaction, so they can end up over-represented in comments sections and other text-dominant virtual spaces.

          1. MOAS

            That’s a really excellent point, I didn’t think of it that way.
            Personally, I think I enjoy a good mix of face to face and online.

          2. DerJungerLudendorff

            Also, people are far more likely to comment on situations they dont like, rather than situations they do like or feel neutral about.

    3. LawBee

      I like my coworkers! One of my best friends is a former coworker, and we’ve been friends for over 20 years. I would have missed out on a wonderful, enriching relationship if I’d followed your prescription.

    4. Leela

      I think it depends on a lot on the company culture and work requirements. I had a job recently where we were doing insane amounts of overtime and if we didn’t socialize at work, we wouldn’t have done any at all because the only days we weren’t on OT were spent sleeping (I started falling asleep at 7 PM on my regular work days because I was so exhausted) and catching up on all the chores and errands we weren’t able to do and honestly it’s pretty inhumane to expect people to not socialize at all for months at a time because a company didn’t plan its projects well.

      Also depending on the company and role, I think that socializing is a very important part of a job for someone who interfaces with lots of different teams. Things just come off different from someone you have a rapport with versus someone you never talk to about anything other than the work item at hand, even if the order/request is exactly as polite.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      It’s somewhat hard not to engage in at least passing socialization with coworkers! It would feel a bit like we’re automatons if we always had to put our nose to the grindstone without some niceties.

      That said, 45 minutes/day for 3-5 days is a lot, assuming it’s happening outside of lunch. I suspect I’d feel very distracted if I were a nearby coworker.

    6. SheLooksFamiliar

      What’s wrong with passing time at work in a friendly way? Too much socializing is distracting and impacts productivity, to be sure, but there’s nothing wrong with casual, friendly conversations at work.

    7. Emily K

      I’m a pretty curmudgeonly introvert but even I see the work-related benefit of socializing with my coworkers. It doesn’t have to be excessive or overly personal, but there are people throughout my organization who I need things from at various times, and having a warm relationship generally means it’s easier to get people to do things for you, people are more understanding when they need things from you and you can’t provide it or make a mistake, and you come to mind for people more readily when there’s an opportunity for collaboration.

      Some of my most successful projects at work have been cross-departmental efforts that I wasn’t strictly required to do, but an opportunity appeared during a casual conversation with a colleague at happy hour who I normally wouldn’t have any reason to work with, and who normally we wouldn’t even know what the other’s teams are working on and never would have noticed an overlap that we could use to our advantage if we hadn’t gone to happy hour.

      1. Bostonian

        I am also a curmudgeonly introvert who hates small talk BUT sees an actual work benefit in some socializing at work. In fact, one of the most demanding/stressful tasks I’ve had this year was made so much easier because I was working with someone that I was more friendly with. We were more likely to keep open lines of communication AND go the extra mile for each other because of that relationship.

      2. Alli525

        THIS. I am friendly but very task-oriented to the point where I get irritated by excessive socializing. I took a professional development course a couple years ago that I thought was going to be pretty woo-woo because we had to take a personality quiz at the beginning, but it was more involved than just a “personality quiz” (like the type you’d take in a magazine) and showed me how to work with people who simply required more socializing in order to have a productive work relationship.

    8. OrigCassandra

      This is my instinct also. I’ve had to retrain myself to remember (and act on the remembrance) that maintaining cordial relationships, even if it’s not explicitly in my job description, is still necessary and useful work.

      1. RUKiddingMe

        Oh yeah. I don’t really like people on the whole. I take them on a case by case basis. However I learned way back in the dark ages (grad school) that friend-LY relationships and people liking me got a whole lot more of what I wanted than surrendering to my natural hermit tendencies.

    9. anon today and tomorrow

      I know this commentariat tends to default to refusing to socialize with people, even if it’s casual because ~introversion, but people chatting with their coworkers isn’t the worst thing in the world. They’re allowed to have casual conversations. Not everyone wants to be curmudgeonly and dour and refuse to ask someone how their weekend was.

    10. Jen RO

      Some of my coworkers have become my friends, and even the ones who haven’t are nice, interesting people I enjoy interacting with. Work is much more enjoyable if you spend it with people who make those 9 hours a day pleasant!

    11. Oh So Anon

      A) Some of us are friends with some of our colleagues.
      B) Many adults don’t have readily available opportunities to socialize beyond what work provides. Single, childless people, for example, don’t really have many non-work shared contexts with which to socialize with peers, and when your social interaction more or less revolves around work it’s close to impossible to feel comfortable building relationships with non-colleagues. Would you rather these people go days and days without even basic small talk with anyone?

      1. anon today and tomorrow

        Single, childless people, for example, don’t really have many non-work shared contexts with which to socialize with peers

        What? Single, childless people have a lot of shared contexts to socialize with people: friends, family, hobbies, book clubs, etc. This is such a broad, almost condescending and insulting statement. Just because people are single or don’t have children don’t mean they’re alone in the world without social outlets beyond work and go days or days without basic small talk with anyone ffs.

        1. Indigo a la mode

          As a single childless person, I was nodding along with Oh So Anon. I don’t know how I’ll ever “meet someone” or make other friends because I pretty much go to work and go home, haha. Work is my social outlet, so when I’m done with it, I don’t need more socializing and I pretty much just wanna be home (as opposed to social clubs, etc.). Also, house/yard/dog chores take up my entire weekend because I’m the only one there.

          Of course I’m not saying there aren’t lots of single childless people out living incredibly social lives, but I didn’t see that comment as condescending or insulting. Maybe it would have helped to say it the other way around: It’s true that having a partner or kids almost inherently creates outside-the-house outlets and obligations.

          1. Kiwiii

            I moved 8 hrs from where I went to college for my boyfriend’s job (and to be in an area with better opportunities for positions that might not bore the bejesus out of me) and for the last 2 years I’ve really struggled with not really knowing how to meet people/make friends in a new area.

            I ended up joining a MeetUp for people with a shared hobby in the area and also joining BumbleBFF a couple months ago. I haven’t been attending/using either of them for long enough to see if they’re actually effective in attaining long-term friendships, but a couple of the people I’ve met (and just gotten dinner with or went to the farmer’s market with and then gotten coffee) are really sweet and funny.

          2. Chinookwind

            I am a married, childless person and that just means that my DH becomes my social life when our schedules mesh. And to the mix that we move for his work and I can verify that it is very, very difficult to make friends as an adult when you don’t have children as an ice breaker.

            I have other interests and do get involved in clubs and groups outside of work, but either a) the other people have children who make their lives very busy or b) they are wary of newcomer and it takes a long, long time to get to know someone and become friends. The only work around to this is when I find the rare person I instantly “click” with and we become instant friends.

          3. Winry Rockbell

            Same here: as a single, childless introverted-type person who works 8-14 hours a day in customer service, I am exhausted by the time I’m off and I just want to sit on my couch in my pajamas, not talk to more humans. If I didn’t socialize with my coworkers, I’d be isolated and lonely as well as tired, and that’s just a recipe for a depressive episode.

            1. Coverallyourbases

              “….and I just want to sit on my couch in my pajamas, and not talk to more humans.”

              – Me, right now. And always. : P

          4. The Man, Becky Lynch

            You have a dog, lots of people find friends at the dog park I’ve found out. Blew my mind at first but yeah, it makes sense. But we’re a very dog-centered area so it’s huge with parks, lots of places aren’t so much.

            My “socializing” is going to get my hair done or getting drinks by myself, I like being “around” the action but don’t need to be involved in it. Perma-Lurker status in the real world.

          5. AnotherAlison

            I’m married with kids and still find most of my social outlet at work. I am in a cycling club, but I just go ride and skip the social hour after because I usually have work to do. (Sounds pathetic when you write it out, but after killing 3 hrs of a morning riding, I don’t have another hour that I shouldn’t be working or doing home work). I was not very successful making friends with my kids’ friends’ moms. A lot of them are SAHM or lead very kid-focused lives, and I’ve always been more career-focused. I’m not in the mom clique.

            1. The New Wanderer

              Me too. Married with kids, but not part of the PTSA scene and all my other friendships faded away over time and/or distance. Husband’s not big on conversation so I get 99% of my adult socializing at work, and those relationships have somehow stayed stable and positive for years so I highly value them.

              Socializing that distracts others is bad. Socializing instead of accomplishing work is bad. Socializing that doesn’t have any bad impacts should generally be left alone. And sometimes, as others have mentioned, conversations between peers might be more work related or work relevant that they seem at first glance.

          6. Oh So Anon

            Also, house/yard/dog chores take up my entire weekend because I’m the only one there.

            And this is something that makes people assume that one is boring, which makes it even harder to feel confident in finding new friends and/or dating, so there’s that. Which is ridiculous, because there’s only 24 hours in a day for everyone.

        2. Indigo a la mode

          Also, just as a side note, I’m one of the minority in this commentariat who loves hanging out with her coworkers – so although I’m an introvert, I’m not a lone wolf by nature.

        3. a1

          Just because people are single or don’t have children don’t mean they’re alone in the world without social outlets beyond work and go days or days without basic small talk with anyone ffs.

          Agree! I am single, and childless, and have stuff going on outside of work 5-6 days a week – karaoke, book club, podcasting, volunteering, volleyball, taking community ed classes as desired, … plus hanging out with friends I made doing all these activities (i.e. dinners, birthdays, happy hours, movies, shopping, camping, etc).

          1. TechWorker

            This sounds absolutely great – but it’s probably a reasonable assumption that you don’t work really long hours. I have two after work things which I enjoy but honestly even that is tiring and I sometimes miss them because I’m working late. (It might also depend where you live – where I live there’s not exactly loads of people my age, such that the club I do that’s actually in my town, rather than 1hr travel away, has a bunch of colleagues in it too anyway).

            1. a1

              I have been able to cut down my hours – more like 50 hours a week instead of 60. However, I’ve always done a lot outside of work. It’s how I make friends. And not all things I’ve done have been enjoyable so I only did them once. I tried a bunch of different groupons and Twin Cities daily deals to try new things and I’d say the majority were donc once or twice and I decided it was not for me. I went to a lot of Meet Ups – same thing. But even if I didn’t click with the people or enjoy the activity I was getting out. And sometimes it did work out! I found a volleyball group I liked, a volunteer org I liked, and friends to karaoke with, and so on. The Twin Cities are notoriously hard for making friends as an adult transplant, but not impossible. And you know what a lot of my friends are? Single! Lots of us going out and doing things and running into friends for casual conversations.

              Really, I’m just saying being “lonely” or having work being the only social outlet of single and childless is hardly universal. Sure, it describes many singles, but there’s also many singles where it doesn’t apply. So state it as some universal truth is just irritating to me.

        4. Oh So Anon

          Woah, I absolutely didn’t mean to insult anyone. I’m a single and childless person, and I too have hobbies and friends and try to make it to book club every now and then. Like a lot of other people here are saying, even so, none of that really translates to casual, high-frequency, non-structured social contact. I can’t just run into people to say hi and share how our days went the way I did when I had a live-in partner, or they way my widowed parent did when they had their adult children living with them.

          Heck, I’m at least two time zones away from my BFFs so a Skype chat still takes a calendar invite. You meet people at book club and marathon class who seem nice and all, but you still need a scheduled, structured event to interact with them and it takes a long time to ever get to the point where you can just shoot the breeze. None of this is to suggest that people without partners and children have empty lives – many of us don’t, but it’s very challenging to fill them with for-its-sake socializing.

        5. LawBee

          I’m a single childless person and actually, my office is a HUGE part of my socialization. When everyone else is married and parenting, it is actually a lot harder to socialize. And book clubs, etc. are really REALLY location-dependent. Small towns, or towns like where I live, just don’t have the depth of population to support a zillion little niche interest groups.

          I didn’t feel condescended to or insulted by Oh So Anon’s comment at all – in fact, I agreed with it.

    12. Kella

      In order to do your work, you usually need to build relationships and trust with your coworkers, and socializing is one tool to enable this process. There are some jobs that it’s perfectly reasonable to work and talk at the same time. And even for jobs where you can’t, no one can work non-stop for 7-8 hours, our brains simply aren’t wired to focus for that long of a time. We have to take breaks to recharge and reset through the day and for some people, socializing with people is really helpful in that recharging process. Having the option to socialize makes many people better at their jobs.

    13. Cordoba

      Because humans are social mammals, rather than biological computers.

      It’s not reasonable to expect that people will sit next to each other for years and have no communication beyond that which is strictly necessary to accomplish their job.

    14. Samwise

      Because for many jobs, establishing a friendly or at least cordial relationship with your co-workers helps everybody.I’m going to feel better about asking you to expedite something, for instance, if we’re on friendly terms; I know you will be ok with it and you will know that it’s ok to ask me for a work favor too. I’m going to learn things about other people that will help me work with them. If I’m friendly and socialize a bit, others are going to want to work with me on their team, for instance. I may get opportunities to do work or learn new things or get promotions because people find me reasonably likeable.

      I don’t have to yak for 45 minutes with someone every day, but a bit of it most days (along with saying hello in the morning and goodbye in the afternoon) is the social grease that makes interactions move along more smoothly.

      1. Chinookwind

        There is also a cultural aspect to this. I remember one (city based) owner getting upset that his (rural based) car salesperson would spend 45 minutes chatting with someone over coffee in her office without selling anything. She then pointed out that she was his top truck seller in the province and that between that “someone” and his family, she had sold 7 vehicles in the last 3 years.

        For some of us, that social grease is what we build up so that we can move things on when we need them done. If I am seen by one person as only someone to be contacted when they need something vs. by someone as someone who is human and more than my job, guess which one I am going to work harder for when their timelines conflict?

    15. DANGER: Gumption Ahead

      Because everywhere I have worked I have liked some of not all of my coworkers? And sometimes off-work-topic discussions lead to really good work ideas. Giving my brain a break and chatting about pets, restaurants, weird things our families do, etc. is my second best time for problem solving (#1 is exercising but I can’t do that oo much at work)

    16. Annabelle G.

      I’m in agreement with you.

      I skew very heavily toward introversion and toward low social needs. It is, quite frankly, exhausting to do the mandatory socializing of my job (social work) without adding in unnecessary social chatter – and even annoying when people insist on the latter! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone just stop at my office door to chat, no matter how busy I look, how short my replies, and how much eye contact I avoid.

      I remember, too, back when I was doing an internship through school several years ago. I would be “on” during working hours, but my lunch was the brief chance I had to recharge. Unfortunately, eating lunch alone just Wasn’t Done, so I would just quietly eat while reading on my phone or playing a game on silent – and I got dinged for it in my review because it was “weird” and just not normal that I would rather be on my phone than engaging the people around me. (They also thought it was weird I didn’t talk to anyone in my cohort.)

      Honestly, the place was a nightmare and a bad culture fit all around. But I dutifully kept my phone put away the rest of my time there, and was absolutely miserable. Now I am very fortunate to work in a place where my contact with other coworkers is limited and I can eat alone in my office.

    17. Alex

      I used to think this, until I actually did make some friends (it just kind of happened after several years of me being kind of anti social).

      And I have to say, my work and my work performance has improved drastically. I’m more aware of what is going on generally–not in the ways that managers and higher-ups communicate things to you, but little things that they wouldn’t necessarily think to communicate but are actually really important. I understand everyone’s work better, and I understand how to work with more people because I know them. It’s more comfortable to bring up stuff you might not bother someone who isn’t a friend with, but can lead to helpful interactions that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

      AND because I’m friends with people now, I’m thought of when something comes up, like “Oh, who should work on this project?” and that’s how you get opportunities. Ideally those things won’t matter, but they always do, at least a bit.

    18. ceiswyn

      Because a) socialising is like oil for people, and without it, working interactions seize up. People are far easier to work with, and a lot more willing to do you the occasional favour, if you treat them like other human beings rather than some kind of machine. Also b) co-workers can become friends.

      I’m still in contact with multiple people from previous workplaces. I exchange cute cat photos with one ex-manager, and play silly drunken card games with another and his family. What exactly is your problem with that?

  6. HardWorkerNeedsALaugh

    I’m not sure – sometimes you just need a break. It was a fairly common thing, multiple days a week at my last job and we got through a ton of quality work. That mental break usually helped refocus on what we needed to do. We didn’t have lots of 5-10 minute breaks with each other throughout the day, and I’d bet that people doing that don’t realize how much it adds up. Unless quality or quantity is obviously suffering and suffering specifically because of that, I don’t think it’s the worst thing.

    1. Librarianne

      I have certain automated tasks that take up all my computing power. When these processes are being run, I can’t do any other work on my laptop. If I’m not behind on professional literature or have a meeting scheduled during that time, I’ll usually read a novel in my office or hang out in the break room to chat with people grabbing coffee. Taking a break from staring at a computer screen not only helps me recharge to be productive during the rest of the day, but it’s also cut way down on the headaches and eye strain I experience. I would feel really undervalued as an employee if my boss insisted that I fill my time with nonsense tasks just so I could look busy!

  7. CatCat

    I worked at a place where there was this one exec who would get a look on her face as if something smelled bad if she happened to walk by our area and overhear us talking about something other than work.

    It was definitely a morale-killer when our boss brought it up to us. Nope, not brought up as a problem with the work being produced. Ms. Smell Bad just didn’t like it and vaguely thought it meant we weren’t working hard enough. (I mean, it was already a “the floggings will continue until morale improves” kind of place anyway.) It did not help quality, that’s for sure, because it actually caused us to work less collaboratively for fear one of us would slip up at the wrong moment and we’d all get a verbal slap down for talking about something other than work.

    1. Leela

      I once got in trouble at a job for looking like I wasn’t working….on my company sanctioned break (as in they even set the time for my breaks and should have known or been able to look up if I was supposed to be working). I wasn’t distracting anyone around me; I was quietly reading and chose to do so at my desk instead of the breakroom which was not only loud but on a different floor and on the opposite side of the building, causing me to lose about 10 minutes of my 15 minute break just getting to and from the breakroom.

      But the manager “didn’t like how it looked”. I was out of there so fast. Out of there into a role as a recruiter, where everyone I knew from the job I’d left reached out to me and asked me to find them a way out because the culture was so oppressive for how we spent our time even if our numbers were well within or above the targets.

      1. it's me

        It sucks but it is actually reasonable for them not to want you to read at your desk, yeah.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch

          It’s fair to not want the optics but then it’s an approach thing to deal with.

          Sometimes you’re asked not to do things at your desk because of optics and also because it can be misconstrued that you’re not getting your breaks at all. So the response is “we have to ask you to only “work” at the desk, you’ll need to take breaks in the breakroom.”

          It reeks for the original comment though because she notes that it’s a long walk to the breakroom, argh but yeah it’s all about delivery in that instance.

        2. Leela

          it can be, depending on the situation i think. In this case, customers would never have come in to the office (call center), and I never had to be available to help anyone or look available, and they’d never said anything to us about it before. It wasn’t “oh hey actually for future reference we don’t want you reading at your desk” it was a very stern meeting with a written follow-up that looped in HR and a notice that I’d lose any bonus I earned if it happened again. Also people were at their desks not working during their breaks all the time, and I’d done multiple things at my desk on my breaks that were never a problem before so this was very odd and came out of nowhere.

      2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter

        I once had an internship where some people didn’t like how it looked when I was reading… during my break time… IN THE BREAK ROOM! So anything’s possible.

        (Regarding the original topic, the only time I’ve heard people chatting for 45 minutes or more was when a bunch of people were doing very routine work and talking to each other while doing it. Talking to someone probably increased productivity in that job. Anything that requires more brain work, and people don’t usually chat for that long, because they would have to stop working for that.)

    2. Emily K

      Reminds me of Red Forman: “If it work was supposed to be fun they wouldn’t call it work. They’d call it super wonderful crazy fun time… or skippity-doo!”

      1. RandomU...

        Nothing to add… except I loved Red Forman :)

        I think he was also the one that spent an entire episode saying “I’m cracking down. And I’m cracking down hard! Starting right now, fun time is over!”

        That seems to be appropriate for this letter.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Ick ick ick. I’ve heard of these kinds of executives/managers. I’m not a mega chatty person but I like to talk when the time presents itself.

      Even my worst boss enjoyed and joined in our chatter [I actually liked him until you know, he showed his two faced crazypantsness of course and then used this kind of stuff against us, smh]. One of my points when I was to hiring people was “Yeah it’s a shared office space, it does get a bit rowdy up here, we’re always laughing but we can tone it down whenever necessary.”

      Which I find is helpful as well to let someone know this before they choose to take a job.

    4. Fortitude Jones

      I worked at a law firm where socializing with colleagues either in person or via email was not allowed. If our manager or one of her lackeys caught someone talking, manager would send out a team-wide email reminding us that we should not be standing up at each other’s desks – we were on mandatory overtime for a reason, so we were too busy to be talking. Needless to say, our turnover rate was high.

  8. Blossom

    There’s a fair amount of this in my office. I do get the impression that most of the main “culprits” do stay late quite often, presumably to get their work done – so they’re making the choice to have a longer day interspersed with socialisation to keep their extrovert selves buzzing. However, I’m still not convinced that makes it totally OK. For one, it stifles actual work conversation. Sure, I’ll interrupt if I need to say something urgent. But the natural flow of less urgent work conversation doesn’t happen, because it’s blocked off by this unstoppable torrent of non-work chat. It’s also distracting, can look bad to visitors, and lends an air of cliquiness to the office.

  9. The Man, Becky Lynch

    You need to get a better grasp on their work outcome, since that’s critical as stated in Alison’s answer.

    We are a talkative crew but we’re always on time with our tasks, nobody is overworked, so we are usually at about 80% capacity. So an hour wasted time isn’t a big deal. It’s all about if it’s holding something up, if you’re constantly waiting for Nancy to stop chatting and respond to your emails because she’s over chatting about her weekend with Betsy, yeah that’s a big deal and needs to be addressed. Again, that means you need to know what they’re responsible for and what their work outcome looks like!

    I agree that it also needs to be noticed if they’re disrupting others of course.

    Starting to hound people about their socialization, when you cannot point out the disruption to work or others will lead to a morale decline and you will have a higher turnover.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I agree. It’s possible that quality and productivity are sliding, but it’s also possible that nothing’s sliding and people have time on their hands. Or they’re good at balancing both. But I’m not sure it merits a complaint unless it’s (1) disrupting other employees, and/or (2) affecting the quality and productivity of the participants.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        See, we track things like complaints and errors for our QC system. So we know if something’s slipping!

        I think some places take for granted that “everyone knows what they’re doing” and then it can snowball without noticing. That’s no good, management still needs to have an eye out for this kind of thing but it’s in the back of your head and only pulled out when you say “why are we getting complaints about delayed shipments? Why are vendors not being paid on time and are now refusing to release our raw materials? What is happening and who’s responsible for these steps being carried out.” then you trace the steps to see where the hiccups are happening if necessary.

    2. Zillah

      I agree, and I also feel like sometimes more downtime can mean that you’re working less but getting more done – a lot of people benefit from taking a break and then going back to something with fresh eyes.

    3. Fancy PM

      Yeah, this! I’m a habitual high performer, and I work extra hours when warranted, but in general, I probably spend at least an hour a day doing nonwork things – chatting, bathrooming, reading AAM, etc and I’ll take a 30-45 min lunch. There are busy periods where this isn’t possible, but it really doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to take breaks.

  10. The Man, Becky Lynch

    I’d also look at their overall time spent at task. If they’re regularly at their desk doing tasks, then take a break to chat a few hours in, then return to their desk to get back on task?

    Or are they chatting in the morning at the coffee station for the first twenty minutes of a day, then wandering to their desk for an hour or so, only to get back up and take another long coffee break and then hit the restroom, then they meander to their desk and maybe answer a couple emails before they’re off to chat with Suzy in accounting about that expense report, only to be held up there for an hour talking about her cats…then they head off to their leisurely lunch break. Are you able to find them and get answers when you need them?

    If they’re at their desk a good chunk of time and then spend 45 minutes somewhere, that could just be their regular 30 minute lunch plus two 15’s in the end that are lumped together. Lots of people eat at their desk while working so they don’t take a solid lunch break or get away for actual breaktime. Something to consider when evaluating your socialization issue!

  11. Tessa Ryan

    We talk a lot in my office but it frequently changes from work to personal. Mostly it’s when people are doing data entry and it doesn’t require their full focus. My boss always says that as long as our work gets done and it’s high quality with minimal mistakes that we are fine. A couple times it can be distracting, especially because my coworkers sometimes use my work area to socialize since it’s in the middle of our office (with up to five people talking above my head) but for the most part we know when it’s a “I can chat” time and a “I have to focus” time. I always feel comfortable exiting the conversations when I need to focus, or asking folks to continue their conversations elsewhere if I’m on a webinar or conference call. We have to talk to members on the phone most of the day anyway, so the noise level is always there. Though honestly sometimes I wish I had an office with a door I could close, instead of an open workspace.

  12. MOAS

    Wow. I love this topic lol….At my company, it’s an open office and most ppl are pretty chill so socializing is common. But there’s an X amount that’s acceptable vs what’s *an issue*. Whenever someone gets spoken to for socializing, its almost always a symptom of a larger performance issues (other performance standards are not being met etc).

    We had one person who was constantly coming over to our side of the room to talk to their friends…they went through 3 managers and none of them spoke to the employee; the last mgr put her on a PIP and the employee threatened to quit. Last I heard their performance was improving so who knows. Another one was constantly walking around and talking and when their manager talked to them they pointed fingers at everyone else (they quit soon after). Another one wasn’t doing much work but walking around a lot, and God forbid if you called him out on it. It was ugly but thankfully they quit shortly.

    Actually I remember asking about this in a thread some time ago; I wasn’t their manager but a supervisor, so not really able to discipline and majority of comments were telling me to mind my own business. So its interesting to see peoples responses on this.

  13. k8

    lol i socialize like this a lot…even with my own boss. i work at a startup and it’s definitely more casual, though

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Socializing with my boss has gotten me to where I am today, haha.

      One of my bosses used to break away from the shop and come to chat with me about old stories about his youth. It always started out with “why can’t I just sell this to collections, maaaaaan.” “This one time, a company couldn’t pay me, they shut down and told me to come get whatever I wanted from their operation! So Johnny and I took the van and went down to Kalamazoo…” Nothing short comes after a “Johnny and I took the van and went down to Kalamazoo.”

  14. Dracarys

    I *used* to have coworker who would come in later than me and still spend almost 3+ hours through the day chatting. A lot of my work depended on her doing her part. So when she’d be chatting, I’d be sitting there waiting patiently. She’d finally give me her stuff later in the 2nd half of the day and I’d have to scramble to do it so I could make my train home. I had work were my boss would only see the outcome once my part was finished and he’d question why I’d always wait to the end of the day to do it. I had to nip it right there once my integrity was being questioned.

    We’re all allowed necessary time to chat and let out some steam, but when it starts to affect other peoples workflow, supervisors need to step in and address the issue.

    1. Blossom

      So annoying, especially when they’re senior to you and you can’t really say anything. Like, you just know that they’re not going to have their bit ready for you in time, but technically they’re not late yet, so you’re just left sneaking in occasional subtle hints that might jog their memory, while trying not to sound like a nag.

  15. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

    As Alison said, you need a way to measure your employee productivity. Once you have that, as someone who has never been a manager but has been micromanaged, if they’re getting their work done well and on time, are not distracting to others who are working, and are quick to stop any socializing if something important crops up that needs to be handled, then I don’t see it as a big deal.

  16. Nanani

    Depending on the job, sometimes there’s inherent down time. Do people find themselves waiting for a long print queue, physical delivery, call or email from another department, or something like that before they can continue?

    30-45 minutes may seem long but it’s also not necessarily long enough to justify overhauling the workflow.

    There is no one-size-fits-all answer, as per the top answer it really really depends on whether and how well the work is getting done.

    1. Librarianne

      Exactly. There are certain automated processes I run regularly that eat up all my computing power, so I really can’t do any other work during that time. I try to schedule them during my lunch break, other meetings, etc., but sometimes they have to be done in the middle of the day. I would feel undervalued and, frankly, infantilized if my boss demanded that I not chat with my coworkers in the interest of looking busy. If my productivity is suffering, have a conversation with me. Otherwise, trust me to manage my own time!

  17. Washi

    One thing is that if you do decide to speak to some of your direct reports about it, maybe do a little bit of observation first. Is it everyone? Is it one or two people who start it and then everyone else joins in? Are there a few people who turn every work question into a 30 minute chat about everything under the sun?

    I think having the answers to these questions will help inform how you frame it if you need to bring it up. I would have a softer approach with someone whose problem is that they let themselves get pulled into Lucille’s epic tales of things you can buy at Costco and it then affects their productivity vs. someone who is actively distracting others and not getting her work done.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood

      another thought out of my experience.
      At one point I would have long stretches of “hurry up and wait” time where I wasn’t supposed to start something new because a manager/reviewer said they’d be right back with my next task …and they would get distracted.
      So sometimes ask directly what they’re working on and you may find a systemic problem to address. My manager told a few managers that we did not have the staff time to wsut, that we WOULD move on, and they’d have to wait their turn again . Reviews started coming back much more promptly!

  18. BossLady

    That unfortunately could be my office. I do not participate. I want to say something almost everyday. But I never do, because I’m already considered too cold/not like-able enough/too focused on work. Which goes back to the post this morning about women needing to both competent and like-able.

  19. Introvert girl

    There are two sorts of people: those who chat all day long at their desk and those who take breaks away from their desk (usually in the kitchen). I’m in the second group. A 30-45 min chat session is a normal lunch break to me. But even if it’s not a lunch break, you should check two factors:
    1. are they reaching their goals?
    2. is there enough work for everyone to do? Is there a seasonal downtime?
    If this is so, then I would just ignore the breaks and assume they are part of a healthy work culture.
    Is work output is suffering, then you should have a talk with them.
    But treat your employees like adults.

  20. ArtK

    Alison’s advice to first figure out how to assess performance is critical. I’m going to expand slightly on how to do it. The “what results will you achieve” is the right attitude, but it’s still possible to get things wrong. Goals/objectives need to fit in the overall picture and sometimes people lose sight of that. Here’s an example from my career:

    I worked with a release manager to get some software out to the customer. RM came to me and said “We have to get these 15 documents reviewed and signed before we can release.” My response was “I can either fix these critical bugs *or* I can get the documents taken care of.” I lost the fight — especially galling because the documents were all “Not applicable,” but I still had to go bug people to sign off. The problem was that the RM’s #1 performance goal was “The process shall be followed” and not “Ensure that we deliver quality product to the customer.” So the RM’s paycheck depended on whether the process was followed and not whether good stuff was delivered to the customer. That made them inflexible on something that should have been “Eh, ok. Get the bugs fixed and make sure we clean up the documentation right afterwards.”

    This is really why measuring “head down at the desk time” is a bad criterion for managing people. It’s easily measurable, but it doesn’t actually correlate to the business goals, except in a very (very!) rough way. Start with real goals that help the organization; if those aren’t being met, then address underlying issues like excess socialization.

    One other thing: Make sure that the business and personal goals are rational. “Do the work of 5 people without overtime” is not a rational goal.

  21. Justin

    This happens at my job, too. Two coworkers got coffee literally 3 times today, and spent the hours in between chatting. They got told to cut it out when it was loud.

    Buuuut the work gets done, so even though I can’t imagine there is really that much to talk about, I can’t say there’s any deadlines being missed.

  22. Anon here again

    Old toxic job had very chatty people, but it was very clique-y. It was a catch-22 though because they said that I was quiet, but then when I would try and join in, they wouldn’t let me, but then get mad/made fun of me for being quiet! Can’t win sometimes…

  23. Rachel

    Saving this for the paragraph on outcome-based goals, as it dawns on me I don’t know what mine are, and I need to bring this gap in understanding to my manager.

  24. Stifled Talker

    I work in an office where it is so quiet you can hear a pin drop. we have a open cube area ringed by offices, so if something is going on you can hear it. But our office manager is very anti-socializing and talking. If you stop by to talk to a coworker in the open area, and she thinks you talked too long she will either make faces at you, stomp around to make herself noticeable or tell you to move along. She also has a minion who rats on us if we are seen talking too much, are five minutes late, or take to long of a lunch. The morale is extremely low. Upper management is aware of the office manager’s behavior, but rather than doing something about it, they are hoping the OM will just go away. It’s a horrible place to work.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Ew, no she’s the one with the power, ffs! Of course she’s not going to go away. Upper management and I need to square off because I want to rip into them for you.

      I’m sorry she has you all scared to talk. She sounds like she’s a frigging hall monitor or vice principal trolling the hallways making sure you unruly kiddos aren’t skipping class!

  25. Kella

    I really appreciate Alison’s focus on how the real problem is a lack of methods for evaluating the employees’ performance. It makes logical sense that if they’re talking that long, it could be impacting their work. But if you can’t actually measure their performance in a consistent way, you’re just saying, “Well, their work is probably fine but MAYBE it would be better if they stopped talking,” which then even if you took steps to fix the socializing, you won’t be able to prove that it was an effective method of improvement anyways because you can’t measure their performance.

  26. Alex

    Some jobs, like mine, it is REALLY hard to reasonably assess our work quality. Sure, if we weren’t doing our jobs at all, stuff would grind to a halt, but without our manager going over our work bit by bit herself (which would be absolutely impossible for her to do), there’s really no way other than to assume “no news is good news.”

    Ideally, sure, work quality is measurable, but sometimes, it really isn’t actually doable. My boss simply does not have the bandwidth to check up on our (extremely detailed) work at the level needed that would detect poor quality.

    We’re assessed on how we handle problems that come up, our participation in discussions and contributing ideas and problem solving, willingness to step up and assist others, meeting deadlines, etc. But the actual QUALITY of our physical work has never and will never be assessed, and poor work is stumbled upon only by accident.

    1. Ella

      Is your work meant to accomplish something, though? I’m assuming you’re not completing tasks in a vacuum, and that the work you’re producing is being created for a reason. If you’re trying to create ways of measuring work quality, you often need to look to the desired outcomes rather than the work itself. In your case would likely be less “is the work high quality in and of itself” and more “are the people receiving the work pleased/returning as customers/giving positive feedback” or “is the work creating measurable change” or whatever results you’re aiming for.

    2. Filosofickle

      Yeah, I am not sure what one could objectively measure of my work except for hitting deadlines. I work in a high-level consulting world, where — for example — no one could truly judge the quality of my research & findings unless they did all of it alongside me. And even then, it could be a matter of opinion.

      What could be measured? Deadlines? Yes, absolutely. Errors? Only for things like typos and scheduling. Client satisfaction? That can be observed, but client happiness often does not correlate with quality. The level of my writing / thinking / ideas? Maybe but it’s pretty subjective. It’s interesting to think about this. What would it look like if there were standards and goals? Someone has to have solved this in my industry, even though I don’t think I’ve ever had a boss who did.

      What’s most interesting to me is that this may explain why I am loath to supervise/direct others…there’s no real standards I can provide judge against. It feels so arbitrary.

      1. Alex

        “Client happiness often does not correlate with quality.”

        This relates to my work as well–in fact, sometimes we have to refuse to accommodate requests from clients because it would be poor practice! And if someone is just doing things to make a client happy, that could actually result in extremely low quality work…..I know from experience :/.

  27. Cordoba

    Socializing at work is “too much” when:
    1) It causes the socializes to do below-average quality or quantity of work
    2) The actual volume or duration of the conversations disturbs other people
    3) It causes some other actual direct problem equivalent to (1) or (2)

    Whenever this topic comes up many of the comments seem to be along the lines of “People shouldn’t socialize at work because *I* don’t like to socialize at work.” Unless other people’s talking is causing a problem for you then it’s not something you need to fret about, just you don’t need to worry about their work hours or what they eat for lunch.

    It is unclear to me if the LW is actually the manager of the people who are doing the socializing, or just a manager generally. Especially if these people don’t report to her, I’d strongly recommend against doing anything to fix the the behavior of her non-employees who aren’t actually causing any problems. Even if they do report to her, I’d still let it be unless it’s resulting in some other issue.

  28. hbc

    As someone who’s always worked jobs where you were never done, I would say that socializing 45 minutes total in a day isn’t too bad, but socializing 45 minutes in a row every day without simultaneously doing work is way too much. Five to ten minutes here and there as you’re going about your business and being friendly comes about naturally during the course of the day, but it sounds like things basically grind to a halt for extended periods. Maybe that sounds unfair since it’s the same total time, but I’d guess that the chatters *also* have those 5-10 minute “Did you catch the game?” or “Hey, cool shoes” conversations throughout the day.

    I’d feel differently if this was a job where you could actually be out of things to do–you can’t groom llamas if no one’s brought a llama in today. But most places, there are probably lots of ways to make use of that “extra” time.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Yeah it will always depend on the workload, there are a lot of jobs and businesses that aren’t breakneck speed, always something to do. I can only deep clean my desk/office so often before it’s just a waste of supplies. I only can purge files every year because everything has a lifespan on it.

      It depends on staffing as well. Some places will make it so that everyone is at 100% capacity and have no downtime. Others work it in so that isn’t the case because they are looking to not run everyone at top speed and burnout quickly.

      I certainly wasn’t socializing at all when I was working 60hour weeks and in a never ending loop of work either that’s for sure. I was actually lectured for being “short” and too “too the point” with people at that stage too because I didn’t have the frigging time to even waste time with pleasantries or warm and fuzzies while responding to someone’s questions.

  29. MommyMD

    That much socializing is way out of line. Maybe be more present in their area when it’s happening and walk over to ask them what they are working on. They are being paid to be there to work.

  30. Meh

    I have a coworker who goes on and on and on every single day, multiple times a day, to our boss about their personal issues and problems. I can hear every conversation and it’s super distracting. But the boss just sits there and lets the coworker talk endlessly, wasting valuable work time, instead of redirecting them or prompting them to get back to work. I used to wonder if the boss is actually wanting this person to stop chatting them up so much and do some (any) actual work during the day, but it’s to the point now where I think the boss is invested in this coworkers personal life like someone would be in a soap opera, like they want to hear the next drama chapter, work time be damned. Not much you can do if that’s the case.

  31. DerJungerLudendorff

    Maybe she does, but the deadline is set for the next day?
    Since some of the responses she gets are “I thought that info isn’t due until tomorrow”. That sounds like the information was already requested, she just needs it earlier than planned.

  32. Not So NewReader

    I don’t think this applies to your setting, OP, but I do have a word of caution. If your people are in a position where they can audit or report on other people’s work, you want to make sure that they are not criticizing others for socializing too long.

    One company I worked for had auditors who were well-known for being very, very social. But only with certain employees. If you were not one of their favs, you could plan on being reported if you stood still for even a few minutes. The dual standard did a lot to damage the company and the reputation of the higher ups, as TPTB allowed this favoritism to go on and on. Additionally, because the Favs were not working the ordinary grunts had to pick up the slack. Over time this lead to lots of anger. The auditors were deeply disliked.

  33. Red 5

    Okay, but here’s my question – how does one gracefully bow out of said socializing, especially if you sit next to/near the people talking with you?

    I like to chat sometimes, and I don’t mind personal chatting. But once in a while I realize the conversation has gone on a while and even if I go back to doing my work it just keeps going…and I’ve just never been able to say “I’m sorry, I have to get back to work.” Partially because I’m chicken about it and partially because I’m doing just as much talking as the other person because if they say something I have a response to, I want to respond!

    Honestly, my work and deliverables aren’t slipping but I would love to just be a bit less social and chatty myself, any tips appreciated.

    1. sum of two normal distributions

      I always look for a minor lull and hit them with a “Okay, I’ll stop distracting you from your work now! And I should probably finish up [insert work here], too! It was nice chatting with you.”

      It’s less about them this way and it reminds the other person that we, in fact, have work to do.

    2. Argh!

      The way to do it is 1) don’t apologize. 2) say thanks for the break. 3) say I’m going to go back to my project. See ya later!

      Sometimes you just have to be assertive at work. If you find that your work isn’t getting done because you don’t have the guts to cut off conversation, that’s on you, not on the conversationalists. You don’t owe your coworkers an excessive amount of your time.

    3. Just me

      Try to look for opportunities to connect the two…”Speaking of ducks…I’m going to be a dead duck if I don’t get those TPS reports done. I’ll catch up with you later.”

  34. Public Sector Manager

    For the OP, is it that you fear quality might actually suffer or is quality actually suffering? If you are getting their work with too many typos and that require too many revisions by you, then that’s what you need to focus on. So the conversation isn’t “hey, you have too many typos, stop socializing!”, it’s more like “hey, you have too many typos in your work, is everything okay? What’s going on? How can we not make those errors happen?”

    I had Employee B who would socialize a lot. They primarily socialized with Employee X and Y. The reality was that X and Y were the types who could socialize an hour a day, get all their work done, and their work was fantastic, needing very little reworking or fixing by me. But for Employee B, their work was late, had multiple typos, and required a lot of revisions.

    When I met with Employee B, I didn’t focus on the socializing at all. I focused on the errors. I told Employee B that the errors were attention to detail errors that Employee B needed to focus on and to stop overly relying on me, as their manager, to fix their mistakes. I pointed out to B that they needed to work independently, and having me fix their errors all the time wasn’t working and was taking me away from my duties.

    Employees who are getting their work done with little to no revisions are never a problem, regardless of how much they socialize. Focus on those who aren’t getting the job done, not how much they talk to coworkers.

  35. Thankful for AAM

    At my place of work, one supervisor does not allow their team to talk at all during work hours, only on breaks. I mean no how was your weekend, did you see this new item the dept got, did you see the email about the new process . . . nothing.

    1. Argh!

      …. and then all that keyboard pounding turns out to be slack conversations, Facebook posting, or snide emails?

  36. Rex

    I don’t think 45min is that outrageous. It might actually have a beneficial effect on work. Some work places tried 6h work days and they seemed to be more productive than 8h work day. I’m sure many of us have wasted 45min/day working inneficiently, so if that social aspect motivates and keep a employees happy then why not. Assuming that the work gets done.

  37. Argh!

    The extroverts socialize for 45 minutes 3x per week. The introverts read the Ask-a-Manager blog for 45 minutes 3x per week.

    If work is getting done, then don’t worry about it. If cliquishness is disrupting workplace cooperation, then find a positive way to disrupt that (like scheduled coffee clatches or pot-luck lunches).

    An extrovert in an office job is living a hellish existence from his/her p.o.v., and needs some quality time with his/her peeps to be able to get on with things. If it works, don’t fix it.

  38. Just me

    One thing that is hard to remember is that relationship building is often an important part of work. It can be hard to see it that way sometimes, especially for people that this doesn’t come naturally to. We joke that managers don’t like to see me coming because one of the things I deal with is leave of absence. But the very fact that I’ve developed at least a superficial personal relationship with each of them makes our work conversations easier. If I have to remind them that they MUST tell me anytime someone is out for more than x days, they feel it’s coming from Just Me, not the big bad HR department.

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