chitchat.jpgI get trying to stop your employees from surfing the Web for hours each day, checking Facebook updates or tweeting. I even get when a manager gets perturbed that a worker keeps text messaging a spouse or child when they should be finishing a project.

But a chit-chat ban?

I just got an email yesterday from a long-time reader HikingStick that’s got me scratching my head. He wrote…

“A senior executive where I work sent the following message after most people went home yesterday:”

To all employees - This is to inform each one of you that the company is beginning to more closely monitor personal web and cell phone/text usage as well as unnecessary chit chat during work hours whether or not a supervisor is in the immediate area!

Effective immediately, please refrain from spending work time on personal activities during the work day.

Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.

HikingStick was pretty upset with the email and for good reason. “Now, everyone is on edge and worried that any non-work talk will be considered ‘unnecessary chit chat’,” he wrote.

Alas, I emailed New York labor lawyer Hanan Kolko to ask if a chit-chat restriction was legal and he said, “as a general matter, yes.” But what is “unnecessary chit chat” anyway? Is it unnecessary chit chat if you ask you coworker where you should go for lunch, or if you want to find out if your cubicle mate’s sick kid is ok?

I get why employers try to limit personal Internet time during the work day. You guys spend a lot of time online, as much as an hour for some of you out there. This has prompted some companies to shut down the cyber pipeline.

According to an article in TechWorld

a study commissioned by Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing company, 54% of US companies say they’ve banned workers from using social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace, while on the job. The study, released today, also found that 19% of companies allow social networking use only for business purposes, while 16% allow limited personal use.

Only 10% of the 1,400 CIOs interviewed said that their companies allow employees full access to social networks during work hours.

Companies are concerned about data leakage and viruses but many managers just want you focusing on work. “Using social networking sites may divert employees’ attention away from more pressing priorities, so it’s understandable that some companies limit access,” said Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology.

Yeah, this makes sense, but managers are going too far if they want to squash a basic human behavior such as chit chatting, no?

American workers are more productive than they ever been, and a lot of that has to do with you guys working really hard because companies haven’t opened up their wallets and started hiring more people to do all the work. Putting the lid on chit chatting is probably going to do more harm than good when it comes to productivity.

HikingStick continued…

“I understand wanting to reign something in if it is getting out of hand, but a message like this one just creates an atmosphere of distrust. I also believe it reduces employee morale and productivity. Those occasional visits with a co-worker help break up the work and make the workplace environment tolerable. Now, everyone is on edge and worried that any non-work talk will be considered ‘unnecessary chit chat’.

“For me, this is the final straw. As soon as another opportunity presents itself, I’m leaving.”

See what happens when you take away the water cooler?!

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