How Can Employees Socialize And Get Work Done?


I try to make a conscious effort to throw myself into my work and avoid socializing, but, it bothers me that people around me socialize, yet, get their work done. What can I do? Is it worth it to socialize on the job?


Silent Sal


Dear Silent Sal:

Your question involves a lot of issues related to any work, so I’ll respond about those individually.

1. What is socializing at work and when is it being done to excess? If, by using the term “socializing” you’re referring to friendly conversations, standing around on occasion and just chatting, or making small talk while working, I’d say that it is quite possible to do that and still get work done, in most work places. That thought applies to work that doesn’t require close focus. However, there are some workplaces where socializing can be done but probably shouldn’t be. For example, if clients or customers are present employees should limit their personal or business chatter, especially if the employee is supposed to be focused on the customer. (For example, while someone is checking you out at a store, cleaning your teeth, doing your nails, fixing your car, etc.) They may not always be directly talking to the client or customer but they should at least give the appearance of being more interested in them than in socializing with a coworker.

If you mean frequent long, extended conversations about non-work related issues, that would probably be excessive and a manager would say it is too much. The issue isn’t whether or not employees can get their basic work done and still chat, it’s that often they aren’t available for anything but assigned work. They don’t have time for self-initiated, extra-value work or to do things like organizing supplies, planning for future projects or asking if they can help someone else. If they can do 8 hours of work well in 5 hours of actual work time perhaps the manager should figure out a way to reduce the staff by one or two employees and let the remaining ones get focused on work instead of talking.

Another problem with socializing to excess is that often the conversations become gossipy or negative about others in the office or the business. That is another reason to limit chats to a few minutes.

Fortunately, in most work places employees watch themselves and don’t consistently spend excessive time in conversation or other non-work activities. The fact is that socializing makes work fun for many people. For some, work is where their friends are but for most, it is a way to keep work from being all work and no play. The key to whether it’s appropriate is in that issue of getting work and extra work done; and talking about appropriate things. 2. Is there value in socializing on the job even if the people aren’t your friends away from work? Yes. Most of life and work is about relationships, even short-term or work-only relationships. Chatting builds confidence in coworkers, encourages cooperation and creates a feeling of camaraderie. That ties in with this next question.

3. When is working hard counter-productive? You say, “I make a conscious effort to throw myself into my work and avoid socializing.” An employee can’t sit in near-isolation all day and expect people to feel comfortable about asking for his or her help or working with him or her on a project. I’ve often mentioned the concept of three ways to gain influence: Be credible, be valuable and communicate effectively. The last two are directly related to the ability to engage people about themselves, their work, their lives and the things that matter to them; and to share those things in return. It could be that some of your work could be done easier if you were more relaxed about work and if you weren’t bothered or concerned excessively about relatively small, extraneous issues.

4. What can an introverted person do to participate more in conversation at work? I gather it isn’t your nature to speak up or to push into a conversation. Try starting it by email and start it by talking about work. For example, instead of walking up to a group and jumping in, send a short email to someone, asking about a matter of mutual interest or concern. “Tracy, I’m having trouble getting responses to questions about the property broker meeting next month. Are you having better luck than I am?” She may respond by email, but when you see her next time she’ll probably bring it up again; or you can. You seem to be concerned that you won’t get your work done if you talk to someone. Instead of trying to have long conversations, set aside ten minutes for “Relationship Building.” If ten minutes will destroy your work effort, you probably have other issues to contend with, so give that a try!

I don’t know what your work situation is like, so you will probably need to adapt this. On your way to the copier or the supply room or to the restroom, stop by someone’s desk or by a group that is talking and just say, “Hi! How is your day going?” Or, “I don’t want to bother you because I see that you’re busy, I just wanted to say hello.” That’s a way to break off the conversation quickly after a few sentences, so you can move on.

Move through the area, according to the type and size of your workplace, saying hello to two or three people, then go back to your desk and get back to work. At least you will be more energized and will have been seen reaching out to others.

I often teach about Instant Impact Communications. I’m referring to words, phrases or gestures that only take one or a few seconds but that convey a message. Positive ones are: A smile, a thumbs up, a head nod, a couple of silent hand claps, a couple of taps on a desk in passing, combined with a smile. Or, “Good job.” “Thanks!” “Wow, impressive!” “I appreciate that.” “Can I help?” “Way to go!” “You’re working hard today!” “Have a nice evening.”

Some negative but necessary ones might be a head shake with a slight frown, a hush expression, a gesture toward the clock, saying something like, “That’s not something I like to talk about.” “Uh oh, bad topic for me.” “This sounds like it’s going downhill.” “Don’t do that, OK?” “We’d better not talk about that here.”

The issue is to say it or do it and keep going so as not to put too much emphasis on a small matter, even though you wanted to communicate at least something about it.

So, the bottom lines on this long answer to what might have seemed like a relatively obvious issue is this: It’s possible to socialize too much and it’s possible to not socialize enough. It’s possible to not get enough work done and it’s possible to have an obsession about work. The best thing for you may be to purposely build some brief, casual conversational relationships, in keeping with your comfort level. But, also accept that it’s OK for you to focus more on work than others do and it’s OK for them to focus less on work than you do, if your supervisor seems approving of both of those levels of work.

Best wishes to you in your work as you seek to find ways to work hard but enjoy it more.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.