When, Where and What: Setting Boundaries for Office Communication

Posted on December 30, 2013 by VITAL WorkLife

A ten-minute conversation about a child's wedding by two employees is commonplace at work—on break or otherwise. As a manager, you don't want to make a performance referral for every minor infraction.

On the other hand, you might want to take action if the chats become more frequent, start to happen while "on the clock" more often than not—or when the frequency and volume start to distract or annoy co-workers. Modern cubes are great for the budget but make it all too easy for employees to learn things about their co-workers they'd rather not know.

"Employees are going to go through difficult times and there are issues that have to be dealt with during business hours," notes Jody Bertram, EAP consultant for VITAL WorkLife.

If the number or length of calls begins to interfere with productivity—and there's no reasonable need you want to accommodate—correcting the problem may be as simple as telling the employee to stop. If the problem persists, you may want to contact HR or make a performance-based referral to VITAL WorkLife.

If the problem is that co-workers are complaining about having to hear the content, you might want to suggest to the employee that he or she step into an unused area or out of the office to make such calls. Urge the employee to be aware of his or her surroundings—and to edit content and control volume when using the phone.

If the frequency of calls is related to a family crisis, financial problem, medical complaint or some other life-altering experience, you might want to remind the employee that your EAP benefit includes free, confidential consultation—and that he or she might benefit from the support we can provide.

"There's no one-size-fits-all solution but, when there's concern, we're always here both as a sounding board and to provide coaching and counseling around steps you might want to take."

Cell at Work Not Working: A Case Study

A manager made a performance-based referral to VITAL WorkLife Solution for an employee who over-used her cell phone at work. While there was no policy against personal cell phone use, the number and length of the calls she was making was interfering with her productivity. Her co-workers had become uncomfortable hearing one-sided conversations about her financial problems, marital struggles and delinquent teens.

"This referral was a win/win for the company and the employee," says Jody Bertram, EAP consultant for VITAL WorkLife. "We were able to help the manager establish a policy around the number of minutes cell phones could be used for personal calls during work hours—and we were able to help the employee resolve a variety of issues that were distracting her from work."

A Good Policy is a Good Foundation

Bertram advises managers and supervisors to familiarize themselves with their organizations' social media policies because issues around use of communication technologies are becoming increasingly common.

"A generation raised with Facebook and Skype sees no difference between spending their breaks chatting with friends around the world and spending their breaks chatting with co-workers," she notes. "If you don't have a policy in place, we can consult with you on developing guidelines that meet your specific needs."

Pathways to Well Being Call VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908 or access resources through your VITAL WorkLife App

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