Employees Socializing Too Much

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworkers socializing: there is about 1.5 hrs of time spent between the two of them that we suspect is not work related.

We have two employees that are friends outside work. Lately they have been taking breakfast break in the morning, talk to each other a lot during the working day and take lunch when nobody else is around. As a result there is about 1.5 hrs of time spent between the two of them that we suspect is not work related.This issue has been brought up with one of them before (they each have their own supervisor), and the response was “you should be happy that your employees are happy”.

Valid point. However, it’s also a matter of Director not liking this much socializing. So, now I personally have to call my employee to my office and let her know that there’s too much socializing going on just between her and her friend. How do I approach it in a way that will not compromise supervisor-employee relationship and will not alienate me? I am a first time supervisor, so don’t have a lot of experience in situations like this.

Signed, Dreading The Talk

Dear Dreading The Talk:

This is a challenging situation. For many people, working with their best friend produces better work than otherwise. For some, it leads to less effective work or to workplace problems. Your description doesn’t indicate that work is suffering in any way or that there is any real problem related to the actions of the employees, other than that the Director doesn’t like for them to spend so much time together. I would doubt there are rules about who an employee can take a break with or eat with–or that you intend to order them to stop eating together.

So, the only real issue is about the amount of time spent talking together during working hours, which also doesn’t seem excessive as you describe it.The biggest problem with two or more people forming a clique at work is that those involved often shut themselves off from other employees and work suffers. Or, they talk instead of helping clients or customers. Sometimes two or three people who spend most of their time together get into the habit of gossiping or appearing to be talking about others, both which stir up animosity with other employees. Another bad result is that employees who spend a lot of time together can sometimes seem to be conspiring against managers or supervisors, and they support each other in bad behavior. Your work situation may not be like any of those but it will help you to take the time to analyze it and be clear about the problem.

To be effective about counseling to change behavior or performance, you (or any supervisor) must be able to clearly state four things:

1. What is happening now and the negative effect it has on work.

2. What must be done instead.

3. What will happen if the employee doesn’t change or improve. 4. How you will help the employee achieve #2. (Reminders, training, changes in work, support, etc.)Until you are clear in your own mind about those things, you won’t be able to be clear to the employee and there will almost certainly be negative feelings. So, before you talk to the employee, it sounds as if you need to talk to the Director again and clarify those three things (if you don’t know them already.)If you do know those things, your conversation can be structured around the them, with an emphasis on #2. For example: “Lisa, here is what concerns the Director and me. (Briefly describe what has been happening and why it’s a problem.) What I want you to do in the future is.(Describe what future behaviors and performance is required, instead.)

This isn’t a suggestion, it’s a requirement and you could receive serious disciplinary action if you continue spending so much time talking to Karen during working hours. Here are some things that will help you make the changes that are necessary. (Tell him or her about any new procedures or rules that have been established, changes you are making, or any help you will provide.)For this situation, a couple of things you could do are: Schedule the break and lunch of the employees at different times; move their work areas, even slightly; plan work differently so there is less free time for socializing, and be present during the shift to remind them to stay focused on work instead of talking.When you talk to the employee, don’t try to give a memorized speech and don’t apologize or blame the Director.

Instead, state your concern and say what changes you want from the employee. Be prepared for some push-back as the employee tells you why you’re being unreasonable. Just stick to what you and the Director have agreed upon. Sometimes the “broken record” approach works best, to avoid arguments. Just say it and say it again, with a firm but friendly tone.You don’t mention in your question what kind of relationship you now have with the employee or how many other employees you supervise. Hopefully you have the kind of working relationship where the employee knows you are not being punitive just to prove a point. If you’ve always been fair and friendly, that will help now.Another thing you’ll have to deal with is how the other supervisor is going to handle this. It would be good for the two of you to agree on your general statements, so he or she doesn’t give one reason for concern while you give another.This will be challenging, no doubt about it. But, if the employees have been spoken to before, it won’t be a new idea for them.

That points out why it’s easier to take care of a problem very early, rather than waiting until behavior is a habit. Once you establish a new way of behaving for them, don’t let them go back to the old way unless something has changed so that it’s not a problem anymore.Best wishes for this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe