Small talk boost to business as long as it stays on topic – study

As firms look to re-opening offices and workplaces a new study has found that the interruptions from colleagues that have often been seen as a blight are actually good for business.

The new study from the Kelley School of Business, at Indiana University found those interruptions can be good – if the conversations are related to work.

The research, published in the Journal of Management, argued against popular belief that workplace interruptions are bad for business. By surveying the experiences of hundreds of workers and their co-workers, researchers found that if intrusions are “in-role,” or have something to do with work that is of significance, they can actually increase work engagement, collaboration and, ultimately, the degree to which employees are willing to help the organisation and each other.

Likewise, they found that “non-role intrusions,” or interruptions involving a co-worker who stops to chat or socialise about non-work-related topics, are detrimental. Intruded-upon employees are less engaged in their work and ultimately less helpful to the organization.

“Our research showed in-role intrusions boost important and desirable behaviours of employees,” said Ryan Outlaw, assistant professor of management at the IU Kelley School of Business at IUPUI. “This is important for managers to consider when looking at post-pandemic work arrangements. Creating or renewing expectations when it comes to workplace interruptions (e.g., ‘my door is open for discussions on projects and new ideas, but let’s save sports conversation for a break time’) will be beneficial, especially as employees head back to the office.”

Researchers added establishing norms around workplace interruptions – especially when working in the office after being home — will also help ensure the benefits of “in-role” intrusions aren’t undermined if they occur too frequently or not enough.

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