You are currently viewing Office small talk can help leaders connect with employees, but there’s a downside
Share this story

Love it or hate it, small talk plays a significant role in our lives, making up a whopping one-third of adult communication. Small talk is also a relationship builder—it helps establish rapport and can expedite deeper conversations between individuals.

Despite its prevalence, management research has largely overlooked small talk’s role in the workplace. But research published in 2020 found that small talk has positive and negative effects in the office. On one hand, it can increase employee well-being and promote workplace citizenship, but it also distracts from completing tasks, hurting productivity.

Overall, however, researchers found small talk overwhelmingly positive for all employees, regardless of their communication preferences. Research participants experienced a mood and energy boost from the ritual, and it helped employees transition into more serious conversations, such as interviews, performance reviews, or negotiations.

For CEOs, engaging in small talk can be a particularly effective way to build camaraderie with employees.

“That is something for leaders to consider if they want to connect with their subordinates. Small talk is potentially a mechanism through which they can create even just moments of a shared reality,” says Emily Rosado-Solomon, an assistant professor of management at Babson College and coauthor of the study.

Of course, small talk can also be distracting for employees, says study coauthor Jessica Methot, an associate professor of human resource management at Rutgers University. Small talk pulls employees away from their work, making it challenging to return to the task at hand and creating a “time famine” in which employees feel rushed to finish their work at the end of the day. Additionally, Rosado-Solomon notes, industries that rely on hourly work can unintentionally penalize employees for engaging in small talk in the company’s drive for employee productivity.


And not everyone benefits from small talk. Researchers found that the ritual negatively impacted non-native language speakers, neurodivergent employees, and expatriates.

“Either they’re not familiar with some of the social scripts of small talk, or they have difficulty reading the cues that people want to wrap up small talk,” says Rosado-Solomon. “That can make certain already underrepresented groups even more marginalized.”


Leaders can help these employees reap the benefits of small talk with programs that allow for social integration, like a buddy system for new hires. “It is important for leaders to create a space but also make sure that people from all backgrounds, especially those who might have more difficulty understanding the norms around productive small talk, get that tacit knowledge,” Rosado-Solomon says.

Small talk may also create implicit bias, which often shows up in promotions and project assignments. Because the practice builds rapport, higher-ups are likelier to favor those more effective at understanding its related social norms, disadvantaging those who do not.


Small talk’s role in the workplace has become more of a focal point since the rise of remote work. Leaders, beckoning employees back into the office, are espousing the virtues of water cooler conversations.

Chief executives, including JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and Amazon’s Andy Jassy, have spoken highly of the creativity and collaboration that comes with chance encounters in the office. “Most professionals learn their job through an apprenticeship model, which is almost impossible to replicate in the Zoom world,” Dimon wrote in an internal memo sent in mid-April. “Over time, this drawback could dramatically undermine the character and culture you want to promote in your company.”

It’s difficult to replicate certain characteristics of small talk, like spontaneity, in a virtual environment, Methot says. Despite employers’ efforts, attempts to foster that fellowship in remote settings, such as Zoom happy hours, have backfired.

“We can’t see each other’s body language, people’s cameras are off, and we’re not making eye contact [or] talking to one particular person,” Methot says. She adds that employees miss out on the natural energy transfer that happens in face-to-face conversations.


But leaders can still find ways to foster small talk in person through collaboration days at the office. Another option is to reconsider the layout of the office space. Surprisingly, open-office plans tend to be less conducive to small talk than private cubicles or offices, which allow employees to focus on work but venture out to lounge spaces or kitchens for gathering, says Rosado-Solomon. Leaders should also be role models by encouraging and engaging in small talk to decompress and connect. But they should refrain from using it to discuss performance.

“It is important for leaders not to be too focused on efficiency that they accidentally discourage organic small talk, but also to actively model small talk in these public spaces,” Rosado-Solomon says.


In remote settings, leaders can implement daily check-ins with subordinates via Slack or text. It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting or lengthy conversation, “but reaching out, that effort to connect, shows someone cares,” Methot says. Leaders can also set up Slack channels for informal discussions and, before scheduled meetings, hold five to 10 minutes to chat. Employees who wish to avoid such small talk could show up when the scheduled meeting starts, “which is what people would do in the office anyway,” Methot says.

“There are things managers can do to recreate or create new social rituals for teams,” she continues. “Maybe first acknowledging there’s no way to rework these spontaneous, casual collisions. But then let’s think of new things we can do as virtual teams to create a social ritual.”

Lennox Mall

This story was originally featured on

Source: Finance Yahoo


Do you have an important success story, news, or opinion article to share with with us? Get in touch with us at or Whatsapp +1 317 665 2180

Join our WhatsApp Group to receive news and other valuable information alerts on WhatsApp.

Share this story

Leave a Reply