Employee Management: Dealing with the Office “Chatty Kathy”

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Humor in MarketingWe’ve probably all encountered the office “chatty Kathy” before at some point in our careers—you know, that person who talks seemingly nonstop or who gossips, distracts, and disrupts our workday.

What can you do if you have someone like this in your office? Here are some strategies for managing it.

An important note before we get started: We’ve labeled the offender as “Kathy,” but this person could also be a “Chatty Charles.” Chattiness does not discriminate!
1. Don’t ignore it. The ol’ ostrich-head-in-the-sand approach won’t serve you well in this case. If you’re in management and/or you own the business, you need to deal with these sorts of things from time to time. Take the person aside for a private conversation. Let the person know that you appreciate her friendliness and exuberance, but that she needs to work on limiting excessive chitchat with colleagues during office hours. Let her know that it’s fine to talk it up in the employee break room or during lunch hours, but that everyone needs to focus on work when they’re at their desks.

Note: If the person’s behavior goes beyond mere friendliness and devolves into truly destructive or disruptive behavior, you should address it in a formal manner that aligns with your company’s policies. This might involve writing her up, issuing a warning, and letting her know that if her behavior doesn’t change, it could be grounds for dismissal. (Disclaimer: we’re not lawyers, and we don’t know what your company’s policy is about such matters—consult your HR department and/or your attorney for guidance.) Here’s an article from Small Business Trends that sheds more light on how to deal with a problem employee.

2. Provide outlets where chatty employees can get their “fix.” Treat employee lunch hours and break rooms as sacred times and spaces. Encourage your employees to take breaks and their full lunch hours. Set the example yourself by leaving your office and going out for lunch.

3. Offer activities where employees can socialize. You know the saying about all work and no play, right? In addition to breaks during the day, it can help office dynamics if people have other events to look forward to—events that will help boost morale and provide ways for social employees to do just that: socialize. We’re talking ice cream parties on Friday afternoons, an office decorating party in early December, employee outings, Halloween costume contests, catered lunches, and other fun things where your team members can get together, chat, and blow off some steam.

4. Empower the Chatty Kathy. You’ve probably encountered different versions of “Chatty Kathy” over the years. Most of them are harmless in that they just like to talk and they have a bit of extra energy. Harness this energy and make this person the head of your company’s social committee (but remind her that the social committee stuff shouldn’t dominate work hours). If you don’t have a social committee, assign her a task that gives her freedom and permission to socialize as part of the task. For example, maybe she can be a liaison for new employees (like a peer mentor). That sort of task might be enough to channel her chattiness to an appropriate time and place. Again, remind her that there are limits and that she still needs to get her work done (and that she needs to allow people to do theirs—in quiet).

5. Provide her with coaching. If you are otherwise happy with your Chatty Kathy’s work ethic and output, consider providing her with a coach to work with her on learning how to manage her talkativeness.

What do you think? How do you deal with Chatty Kathy employees in your office? Share in the comments.

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