Water Cooler Chatter: Is it discussion or distraction?

It seems that employees value ?water cooler chats? more than those in charge. Forty percent of workers said these conversations increase productivity by providing opportunities for employee bonding; only 21 percent of executives agreed.

?Informal discussions at the water cooler or in the lunchroom can often lead to new ideas, stronger work relationships and improved camaraderie, which, in turn, can increase productivity,? says Diane Domeyer, executive director of Office Team, a leading staffing service that conducted the surveys through an independent research firm. However, this is true only up to a point.

?Conversations should not interfere with work that needs to be done. If talks steer away from business issues and continue for extended periods of time, it?s distracting to others. In these cases, the dialogue should be continued after office hours,? she says.

The survey also showed that 30 percent of employees saw no effect on productivity versus 41 percent of employers; 26 percent of employees and 34 percent of employers said it decreases productivity. Four percent of both said they didn?t know or had no answer.

The survey, which can be viewed at www.officeteam.com, includes responses from 150 senior executives and 539 full- or part-time office workers.

Getting Away
When is the best time to get away from the water cooler and actually into the water? Summer, executives say. August and July, in particular.
A new survey shows 36 percent of executives said August is the best month for employees to take a break, with July coming in second at 21 percent. The survey was conducted by an independent research firm and developed by Accountemps (www.accountemps.com), a company specializing in temporary staffing for professionals.

As for the rest of the year, December ranks third, at 14 percent, followed by June (7 percent), March (3 percent) and February (2 percent). All the rest of the months come in at 1 percent. Ten percent said no particular month was better than others.

?Before leaving for vacation, employees should work with colleagues and managers to ensure projects run smoothly during their absence,? says Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Managing Your Career for Dummies.

?Without adequate preparation, professionals may find themselves on an unintended ?working vacation? as they spend time consulting with co-workers and attending to last-minute requests via their laptops,? Messmer says.

When looking to take a truly relaxing vacation, Accountemps offers these tips:
l Plan ahead. The sooner you give your manager notice, the likelier you are to secure the dates you want.
l Get backup. Designate a point person to keep things running smoothly in your absence.
l Ask for help. If there is no point person, consider the option of temporary help to fill in the gap.???

Strut your stuff
The people who make a difference in organizations are the ones who speak up confidently, phrase their suggestions enthusiastically and generally assert themselves. Writing in Competitive Edge, the newsletter of business-etiquette coaching firm Pachter & Associates, Carolyn Aishton offers these tips for sprucing up your performance in your next meeting:

l Before you go to the meeting, find out the purpose of the meeting and the identities of the other attendees. Read, gather information, call the other participants and ask questions. You?ll arrive at the meeting fully prepared and ready to join in with questions and suggestions.
l Get on the agenda. Ask to be included on the agenda, if possible as one of the top items so time doesn?t run out. If there is no formal agenda, let the person running the meeting know you have some comments to share. Phrase them succinctly so that listeners get your point and don?t stop listening.
l Arrive early and build rapport. Introduce yourself to anyone you don?t know. Get a seat near the facilitator so you?ll be more likely to be noticed and called upon.
l Use assertive language. ?I have an idea I?d like to add? is much more positive than ?May I say something??
l Speak up?literally. Make sure your voice is loud enough to be heard and engage in the conversation. Sit up straight, lean into the table and make eye contact with others in the room.
l Support others. Say ?I agree with that position? or ?I like that idea, and I?d also add?? This shows you have come to the meeting to be a team player.
l Set a goal. Make a promise to yourself that you?ll speak up at every meeting you attend.