Employees who talk too much: Getting them back on track

Worker’s bad behavior hurting others

There will always be office small talk, but some employees don’t know when to zip it up.

Not only do they not get their own jobs done on time, they hurt the productivity of co-workers.

Sharing funny stories about the kids or last night’s game can build a strong culture, but managers are regularly forced to deal with folks who don’t know where to draw the line.

Chit-chat out-of-control

That puts managers in a delicate situation: You know you can’t ignore the chit-chat – as that would just validate the behavior.

Then the problem not only sticks around, but it may even get worse.

Of course, you run the risk of being painted as an ogre when you try to stop the socializing. If not handled right, workers may feel you’re making a mountain out of a molehill, which can hurt morale and productivity.

Manager Gina Bass faced just such a challenge. Helen, one of Gina’s employees, was spending too much time bending the ear of anyone who would listen.

Needs an extension

Gina turned the corner and saw Helen standing next to Dave’s desk.

She’d been there 10 minutes before, and it sounded like she was talking about the same thing: her upcoming vacation.

“Hey Helen, are you going to have that progress report finished for me this afternoon?” Gina asked.

“Oh, yeah, I was going to stop by your desk and see if a one-day extension is OK,” Helen said.

“I really need that report today, or I won’t be prepared for tomorrow’s manager meeting,” Gina replied.

“It’s just that, it was an awful lot of work to get done in the time you gave me,” Helen said.

“I guess you better wrap it up here with Dave and get back to work, then,” Gina said.

Helen rolled her eyes. “Sure thing boss. Whatever you say.”

The big question

The next day, Gina had a few questions for Helen about the report, but she wasn’t at her desk.

When Gina finally found her, just minutes before her meeting was to begin, Helen was carrying on yet another conversation at another co-worker’s desk – this time about her kids.

If you were in Gina’s situation, what approach would you take in dealing with Helen? One of the ideas offered by our readers might provide you with some guidance.

Let her know she’s hurting my performance, too

Ours is a high-stress environment so we actually look for people with some of the qualities that Helen has. Chit-chatting between calls helps our people keep the right frame of mind. But if Helen’s behavior is impacting her work – and others’ work – then that’s a problem. I’d call Helen into my office and try to get her to see that she is hurting her own performance by this continued behavior. I’d also make it clear to her that, in this case, she’s hurting my performance, too, by not getting the report in on time. I’d also make sure she understood that if she was going to have trouble delivering the reports on time, she needs to come to me sooner to let me know – not at the last minute. If things didn’t improve after that, I’d let her know that this would be going into her personnel evaluation.

Julie Webber, Manager of Staff Development
National Center for MIssing and Exploited Children, Alexander, VA

Tie everything to meeting standards

I’d try to help Helen see that what she’s doing is affecting her work performance. If she was missing standards and not hurting anyone else, then it wouldn’t be a problem. I’d keep the whole conversation about meeting standards. I’d outline the areas where she is not getting the things completed as she should and then help her come up with solutions for getting these things done. I’d help her see that her problems are connected to her behavior.

Dawn Eastman, HR manager
Express Pipe & Supply Co., Culver City, CA


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  1. Leonida Reyes says

    It is a great advice. Yes, it indeed boils down to performance standards to be able to minimize if not at all curtail chit-chatting in the office. It is very common in our own culture when chit-chatting becomes the norm. It is when it affects productivity and morale that a manager must act on the behavior by making clear the expectations which when unmet could lead to performance issue. It would help though to include in the company’s Code of Conduct that chit-chatting can be confined to meal breaks; loitering from one cubicle to the other without official transaction is discouraged.

    • says

      Leonida – Good point on the Code of Conduct, making a sticky situation less grey… The line between chit chatting the is good for morale and the chit chatting that is disruptive is very thin and it is good to have support from the company to address…

  2. Victoria Thomas says

    My situation with my employee is somewhat the same but different. She does meet productivity. That’s what’s mind boggling. She chit chats a lot with one particular co-worker who also meets productivity. So I’m thinking maybe we need to raise the productivity standard. It just reflects bad on me and the team when you have a talker that hangs out at cubicles and chat excessively. Maybe I made the mistake of giving the team some leeway by stating it’s okay to say good morning, how was your weekend etc. but know when enough is enough. Don’t abuse that privilege. Not sure how I should approach this particular employee who is super sensitive and thinks I take everything personally regarding her behavior.
    Victoria Thomas
    Corporate Supervisor
    SSM Health
    St. Louis, Missouri

    • says

      Victoria…I would not beat yourself up over encouraging your team to be friendly with each other…I think you have the solution – and it centers around the productivity level…They seem to have extra time on their hands – and it makes sense to push them to be more productive…Good Luck!!!

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