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9 quick tips for handling overly social employees


Overly social employees may be costing your business more than its peaceful atmosphere. In fact, the price you pay in lost productivity could be pretty steep.

But how can you establish a correlation between excessive talking at work and lost productivity?

CareerBuilder surveyed more than 2,000 hiring and human resource managers and 3,000 employees from a variety of industries and company sizes to identify the biggest productivity killers in the workplace.

Here are the results, according to both employers and employees who were surveyed:

  • Cell phones and texting (55%)
  • The Internet (41%)
  • Gossip (39%)
  • Social media (27%)
  • Co-workers dropping by (27%)
  • Smoke breaks/snack breaks (27%)
  • Email (26%)
  • Meetings (24%)
  • Noisy co-workers (20%)
  • Sitting in a cubicle (9%)

Not surprisingly, the majority of the top 10 productivity killers have to do with excessive talking at work. Left unaddressed, diminished productivity can spell disaster for your business.

So, as a business leader, what can you do to make sure a quick chat among coworkers doesn’t turn into social hour? And better yet, how do you handle it in such a way that you keep employees on track without micromanaging or coming across as a “buzz kill?”

Here are nine quick tips to help you redirect overly social employees without crushing morale.

1. Focus on productivity and objectives.

When it comes right down to it, excessive talking at work is only a problem when goals and deadlines are missed, either for individuals or for the team. A healthy dose of socialization supports teamwork and group cohesiveness. Refrain from micromanaging your employees’ time, and instead focus on whether the work gets done.

Also, make sure you communicate deadlines clearly. Competitive employees, in particular, thrive with deadlines. The overly social may not realize a deadline is looming. A reminder of that deadline may get them back on track.

It’s also important to recognize that employees who don’t have enough to do are more likely to engage in a lot of chatter at work. Remember the students in school who were always acting up and getting into trouble? More often than not, they were just bored.

The same holds true for the business world.

Employees who are really busy with deadlines don’t have time to spend half an hour at the water cooler gabbing about last night’s game. That doesn’t mean you should start assigning everyone “busy work.” But meaningful projects and assignments aligned to company goals can give your workforce purpose.

2. Focus on problem behavior, individually and quickly.

Don’t make your whole workforce guilty by association, and don’t reprimand employees in public.

When you have one Chatty Cathy or Charlie, remember to coach him or her in private, never in front of others.

For instance, let’s say Cathy has been at Ken’s desk for 15 minutes talking about her upcoming vacation, and you know she’s got deadlines to meet while keeping Ken from meeting his. Rather than make a scene, walk up and say, “Hey Cathy, please come see me for a minute when you get through here.”

Once Cathy comes to your office, be honest and transparent but not confrontational or argumentative.

A typical conversation might start with, “Cathy, I appreciate that you take an interest in getting to know your coworkers. But visiting at someone’s desk for such a long time creates the perception that work isn’t getting done.”

Should Cathy respond that she was collaborating, not visiting, don’t argue. Focus on productivity, such as an upcoming deadline or other work that needs to be finished. Keep it about the work – not personal.

3. Consider the extrovert vs. introvert equation.

When you’re evaluating whether too much socialization is going on, don’t forget the differences between introverts and extroverts and how they perceive the world around them. Personalities and work styles can play a big part in how your employees interact with one another.

For example, extroverted Austin may need more social interaction with the world, including his world of work, in order to feel happy and productive. On the other hand, introverted Hope may need more quiet time and find talkative Austin terribly distracting.

It may be necessary to coach Austin by reminding him that, while his extroverted style may seem normal to him, it distracts and stresses his introverted colleague who needs to concentrate.

 4. Consider channeling socialization into specific times.

If your whole staff or team is socializing too much, try to figure out what’s behind it. Maybe they really need to collaborate and “group solve” issues that arise, or they need to let off steam during stressful times.

Bring the whole group together to discuss what can be done.

Would structured, company-wide break times help? You could schedule one 15-minute break in the morning and another in the afternoon. During those times, everyone knows they’re free to visit with each other.

If some team members want more social time, they can also have lunch together offsite or in the office break room. Better yet, make time to grab lunch with your employees on occasion.

Whether you have everybody brown-bag it for a lunch-and-learn in the break room, or you bring lunch in once a week, month or quarter, having time for informal, cross-functional sharing can greatly improve team spirit and productivity.

You may even consider adding a social component to your team projects from time to time. Carving out 30 minutes or an hour for groups to discuss current challenges and crowdsource potential solutions can be a great stress-buster and facilitate productivity at the same time.

5. Decide on group norms and send clear signals about availability.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for minimizing distractions. Social norms and needs vary from office to office and team to team.

If your employees’ needs for concentration and quiet time vary, decide as a group how you’ll signal each other when it’s time to take the conversation somewhere else.

For example, excessive talking at work may be curbed when everyone agrees that if headphones are on, that’s a signal not to disturb.

Headphones can be particularly helpful in cube areas or open environments. A small red flag can also be raised to indicate “do not disturb.” And for offices with doors, a shut door can signal that the person needs to concentrate.

6. Guide against oversharing.

Overly talkative employees may also have a tendency to overshare.

If that’s the case, it’s time to step in for some individual coaching. Be delicate, but remind them that there needs to be a line of privacy in the workplace.

Maybe your employees are going through a particularly stressful time at home, are new to your business or industry, or just don’t filter their thoughts. Whatever the reason, try to help them understand that they’re hurting themselves by sharing too many private details, as well as distracting others from their work.

You might say, for example, “I know you’ve got a lot going on outside of work, but I’m concerned that sharing too many details is undermining your credibility and authority with your co-workers.”

7. Find a use for the talkative employee’s skills.

Did you ever notice how the social butterflies often have boundless energy and ooze charisma? Put it to good use.

You may be able to channel the talkative one’s need to communicate into specific tasks. Maybe the extrovert would actually like to attend cross-departmental meetings or meet with several customers and report back to the team.

That being said, beware of giving high-profile assignments to only one person on your team. Instead, think about how you might best use your socialite’s skills to the team’s advantage.

Another option to consider: Your overly social employee may be ill-suited to their job. Visiting with others too much can be a sign that an employee isn’t truly engaged in their work and needs a different role.

Maybe your extrovert would like to train new team members or needs to work in a position where teamwork and collaboration are required.

8. Beware the social media and smartphone bugaboos.

With social media and smartphones, everybody’s always just a Tweet or a text away from their network. And if the CareerBuilder survey is any indication, that’s probably not going to change anytime soon.

Start by putting the situation into perspective.

For instance, a quick Facebook break shouldn’t be a problem for an otherwise productive employee. However, if Deandre is spending more time texting than on his day-to-day job responsibilities, it’s time to address the issue.

Truth be told, texting and social media may be just as destructive to Deandre’s productivity as excessive talking at the water cooler.

And if social media and texting become a department-wide problem, you may need to consider establishing parameters and guidelines for when employees can take a social media break. Many companies even include social media, Internet and personal call policies in their employee handbooks.

9. Make sure your office layout isn’t a problem.

Open offices are all the rage, but even normal office interaction may become annoying due to the inherent lack of privacy and limited quiet spaces designed into such environments.

If everyone is complaining about noise pollution or problems concentrating, consider whether your office design needs some adjustments. You may need to designate “quiet zones,” install phone booths, and remind team members to step into nearby conference rooms if an impromptu meeting begins in the walkway.

The bottom line is that you are responsible for making sure the work gets done well and on time.

Social interaction between employees is an important part of building a pleasant and productive culture. You just have to learn to recognize when that interaction becomes overly social, and make sure you and your employees stay focused on the results.

Looking for more ways to make your team more effective? Download our free e-book, The Insperity guide to leadership and management, to discover how you can inspire greater productivity and performance among your employees.