Does it boost workplace productivity – or is it a total time-waster? That depends on who’s answering the question. In a recent survey on MSN Careers .com, 40% of employees said that water cooler camaraderie boosts productivity because it helps workers bond. But the boss disagrees. Only 21% of managers said the same thing. Here are a few more good-and-bad facts about water cooler chit-chat:

  • First, casual conversations can create stronger working relationships. Why? Because you get to know your co-workers on a more personal level.
  • Chit-chat also gives you insight into everybody’s daily responsibilities, priorities and pressures.
  • Another good reason for water cooler chit-chat: if you pay close attention, you can learn the unwritten rules of your organization. Like, whether the head honcho likes hourly email updates on unresolved issues, or a hard-copy memo once the problem is solved.
  • Also, not only do short chats prove you’re friendly, sociable, and team-oriented – but they can be good for your brain. Taking a quick break from work stress helps you relax, refocus and recharge your mental batteries.

But not all water cooler chit-chat is good:

  • First, don’t lose track of time. There’s a big difference between a 5-minute chat and an in-depth, half-an-hour gabfest.
  • Next, be careful what you talk about. Discussing new company equipment, an upcoming project, or even sports is cool – but gossip is a definite don’t. Dishing the dirt just makes you part of the rumor mill – and makes management believe that you can’t be trusted with company secrets.
  • Finally, remember that any water cooler chit-chat – no matter what you talk about – can be a major distraction to anybody working nearby. So, keep it brief and quiet if anybody’s within earshot.