Mixing Business and Personal Conversations at Work

Businessman and businesswoman standing at water cooler.

Recently had a conversation with a colleague who happened to mention to me that their workplace discouraged employees from engaging in conversation that was personal.

At first I was a bit surprised because where I work it is a pretty common thing that we mention things that are going on in our personal lives, with family, friends or events.

After asking a few questions as to why they had such a rule, I began to understand a bit better.

Their workplace has several departments that interact with each other in many ways throughout the workday.  Co-workers would often have to go to get things from people in other departments visiting cubicles along the way.

They found that when employees mixed personal conversation during business on a regular basis that the company would have more employee issues with regard to gossip and backbiting, which lead to multiple problems, even termination.

These issues would take up valuable business time, which resulted in loss of productivity and revenue.

Therefore the company owners passed a policy requesting that employees practice professionalism at work veering from conversations regarding their personal lives while at work.

She mentioned that the business owners were not so hung-up on the policy as to not let employees ask, for example,  how each other or their children were or if they had a sick parent that they could not share that with others.

The policy was established to limit the conversation and to be aware that if they were caught backbiting or gossiping that there were strict consequences for it.

She told me that most people feel that they policy has been good because they do not have to worry about a lot of the petty things that would happen like before.  It also has allowed them to be more productive because they stay focused on work and that is what they are there for.

What is your company’s policy on mixing work and personal conversation in the workplace?

TP 12/19

7 thoughts on “Mixing Business and Personal Conversations at Work

  1. I find this very interesting. In my opinion, when I worked the “cubicle” life, I kept personal conversation to a minimum because I was so busy and felt I was there to work, not talk. I think of it as common sense; yet, as you pointed out, the reality is that people WILL start gossiping and talking more about work and other things besides a sick parent or child’s new award. In my particular case (again, this is just what happened to me), I was PENALIZED for not talking MORE to my co-workers! Seriously. I lost a promotion one time because I was told I “worked too hard” and “set the bar too high for the average employee” and was considered “less social.” I was also told because I had a clean and neat desk, it looked like I had nothing to do; therefore, I was to “keep it messier and unorganized!” This drove me nuts. I produced just as much work, if not much more, than most of my co-workers. Finally, I just left the company. If they’d had this policy, I would have been thrilled! (They even skipped my birthday one year, intentionally, because of the gossiping and backbiting. Everyone who had a birthday got a small cake and party, every near. Not me! I left soon after. Such pettiness.)

    • Wow! what a story…simply amazing. How could a company treat an employee that way. You are much better off not working there and I would consider what you just wrote great blogging material 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

      • Hi Tina! You know, you are right. I don’t know if you’ve heard the 80/20 theory – that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. This doesn’t apply to all companies, of course, but sometimes it can seem to be true. In my case, I guess I understand now, looking back – (although it still makes me angry!) – if someone works too hard, then they will expect it of others (I would), so if you’re a Type A++++ some folks will just not get it, and there could be friction. Thanks for the comment!

  2. I think the biggest problem in allowing open-ended personal communications is that there can develop a ‘clique’; of three or four people obviously socialising together and excluding others. That is the beginning of resentment, unrest, tension and gossip in the workplace. For that reason we do have policies in place against socializing in work-time, albeit that we only need to enforce them when a ‘clique’ formation surfaces.

    • Hi Elizabeth, this is a tough topic in one sense. Yet I have heard more stories of gossip and backbiting that I could write a book. So much time wasted and employers good money on salaries that they did not get the work from that they paid for. Be kind and pleasant at work and save the talk for outside the walls on breaks. I like the rule that if you cause a problem through gossip that you are disciplined. It makes good business sense.

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