The owner of a small retail shop in Canada recently asked me how she could discourage conversation with her one employee without making the workplace seem cold and uninviting. This is an issue many owners of small businesses face. The employer/employee relationship is particularly intimate in very small workplaces, and the temptation to chat all day can be a significant detriment to productivity.
I suggest that you address this issue in a forthright manner. A conversation that goes something like this will set the stage for more productive – yet collegial – days:
“I really enjoy the time we spend together in the store/studio, and I get so much out of our conversations. But one of the things I am working on is learning to minimize my conversation during the day and maximize my focus. I’m learning that the best way to maintain camaraderie and communication while also maximizing focus and accomplishment is to schedule time for both.
Why don’t we start each day (or shift) with some time to catch up – personally and on business issues – and let’s spend 10-15 minutes engaged in conversation over a cup of coffee or tea. That will help us stay in touch. The rest of the day, let’s keep our conversation focused on the business issues, training, etc. Then, at the end of the day (or shift), let’s spend another 10 minutes recapping our day.”
This approach will help your employee understand that your limitation of conversation is based on a business objective, and not on unfriendliness. It also helps you when she starts talking during the day, because you can say “I’d love to discuss that with you (hear about it, etc.). Let’s save that for our end-of-day recap – it will be something for me to look forward to!”
The nature of a small business culture is more fragile than that of larger workplaces, so the issue of reducing casual conversation must be handled with care. Failure to address it will only lead to frustration and an underlying tension that your employee may not understand. But if you address it effectively, with reasons and benefits, you will likely create the more effective workplace you desire while maintaining the fun and intimacy of working with someone whose help – and camaraderie – are both of great benefit to you.