Brain power

Managers should encourage time for non-work chats

The findings of my recent ‘chatting at work’ research show that managers should encourage time for non-work chats as part of maintaining a productive team with strong working relationships.

The research was carried out in collaboration with Dr Rachel Lewis and Dr Joanna Yarker, and presented1 at the British Psychological Society (BPS) Division of Occupational Psychology Annual Conference earlier this month.

Chatting with colleagues about non-work topics, such as family and hobbies, is a simple way employees can build good working relationships with each other. However, office culture and some attitudes at work about the appropriateness of such ‘chit chat’ can mean they are not encouraged and even actively discouraged in work time.

We wanted to assess how much a designated workplace activity designed to get people chatting would improve relationships, overall job performance and also tackle some of those negative attitudes.

The study

A total of 125 office workers were split into two groups and completed questionnaires relating to their work relationships, team performance, and the acceptability of chatting at work.

The first group was given a conversation toolkit and told to chat with colleagues as much as possible over two weeks. The toolkit included a suggested topic list, ideas for good opportunities for social conversations at work, and resources to give encouragement and set goals.

The second group was asked to complete a network map of relationships at work, but were not given any instructions about chatting at work.

After two weeks both groups completed another questionnaire.

Rather than time wasting, chatting can help improve key outcomes

As summarised in the information sheet below, the results showed that workers in both groups reported significant improvements in the quality of their working relationships, work performance, and acceptance of chatting over the two-week period. However, the changes for the second group were generally smaller.

Participants also believed non-work based chats at work were very important, with these occurring around 2-5 times a day – often for a very short time. Conversations don’t need to be long to make a difference.

Clearly, simple activities at work that help us chat more and focus on our relationships with colleagues can improve key outcomes at work. We all need the help and support of other people at work. These social chats can help smooth issues and be the basis of future collaboration.

Some organisations will be concerned about time wasting. Our study, and earlier research, shows that people don’t spend their whole chatting – in fact these social conversations are short and only happen 2 – 5 times a day. Employees mainly talk about the job and tasks that need to be done.

However, just being exposed to more social conversations at work makes people accept them more and see their value. Managers should embrace and encourage social conversations at work, including role-modelling the importance of getting to know colleagues.

Chatting at Work Research Information Sheet
Chatting at Work Research Information Sheet (Click to View)

Header image source: Cottonbro on Pexels.


  1. Dietmann, A., Lewis, R., Yarker, J., & Zernerova, L. (2020). Carry on chatting: Do social conversations improve workplace relationships, performance, & reduce loneliness? Division of Occupational Psychology Annual Conference, January 2020, Stratford-upon-Avon. UK: British Psychological Society.
5/5 - (1 vote)

Dr Antonia Dietmann, AFBPsS, C.Psychol

Dr Antonia Dietmann is Head of People Capability at HM Courts & Tribunals Service (part of the Ministry of Justice). She has previously been Head of Employee Engagement supporting employees through the largest reform of the courts system in history. Early experiences researching workplace bullying amongst teachers and sexual harassment in the Armed Forces impressed upon her the negative impact of working relationships gone wrong. As such, she is passionate about the fundamental need for meaningful work relationships as a key driver of successful business outcomes. To enable this, Antonia brings psychological evidence and creativity together to deliver sustainable interventions at a large scale. These draw on 15 years’ experience as an Occupational Psychologist with expertise in research, wellbeing, individual and organisational development. During this time Antonia has also been Chair of the UK’s Division of Occupational Psychology (part of the British Psychological Society). In recognition of her high-quality work on inclusion at the Department for Work & Pensions, Antonia was awarded the UK’s Occupational Psychology 2017 Practitioner of the Year. She has also won the Association of Business Psychology’s Excellence in Employee Engagement award for developing HMCTS’ people proposition. Antonia has worked in three of the ‘big five’ government Departments, all of which were undergoing major organisational transformation, after starting her career at the University of Sheffield and Rolls-Royce. In 2019 she was awarded a doctorate in occupational and business psychology for her research on ‘chatting’ at work and its impact on working relationships, performance, and loneliness.

Related Articles

Back to top button