What are you doing this weekend?

It’s a question you’ll likely hear from at least one coworker this Friday, and it could be good for your productivity. Water cooler chat, the universal phrase that refers to all manner of casual conversations between employees, is beneficial for your wellness at work.

As human beings, we all crave belonging. We are social creatures, and the need to belong is one of our deepest motivators. Since many of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, it stands to reason that we would seek belonging in the social environment of our workplaces.

For a long time, there was a trend in management that discouraged water cooler talk. The theory went that those were precious minutes employees spent gabbing instead of producing. (The boss in Office Space comes to mind. We all know how that ended.) Thankfully, that misguided mentally has started to shift, and today’s more enlightened workplaces are even designing offices that encourage employee interaction.

Building strong social connections with your coworkers supports both your mental and physical health, and can help you feel more connected to your company and the work you do. When you’re doing mission-driven work, this boost to your mental and physical health can be the difference between thriving in a challenging environment and burning out. It’s also critical that we look out for one another. In the same way that we teach children to include the kid who’s been left out, we need to step up as adults and reach out to the coworker who doesn’t get invited to lunch.

While literal small talk around the water cooler doesn’t equal a meaningful social connection, it does open the door. If you’re feeling disconnected from your coworkers, you may try some of these tactics at your workplace.

Commit to asking one coworker to coffee every week. It doesn’t have to be long and it doesn’t actually have to involve coffee, but try to get out of the office with someone you work with regularly. Try not to talk about work. See what happens!

Start an office team or club. I can’t tell you how many places I’ve worked had where someone started a board game club. Truthfully, I had a sizeable eye roll for this one at first, but I showed up and it was awesome. Most times, I didn’t end up playing any games, but the organized time to interact with coworkers outside of work provided a fantastic environment for engagement.

Go to the holiday party. I know. Office holiday parties have a terrible reputation. They can be cheesyAF and sometimes feel a bit forced. Go anyway, connect with someone you don’t get to interact with as regularly, and maybe have a chuckle together at the conceit of it all.

Send memes to your coworkers. Someone, somewhere is going to HATE me for this, but I can tell you from experience, it is good for morale. Nothing screams “WE GOT THIS TEAM!” like a Honey Boo Boo meme. Plus, you learn which coworkers share your horrible taste in reality television and you can bond over it later.

Finally, say thank you, genuinely and regularly. It can be hard to take a moment when you’re all furiously executing tasks, but expressing gratitude for one another in the workplace is, I believe, the single most important thing we can do for workplace wellness. Unfortunately, that end of email or slack chat “ty” won’t quite do the trick. Try to express dedicated appreciation for a co-worker at least once a week. A la: “Hey Sharon, I wanted to thank you for editing that e-blast for me earlier this week. I know how busy you are, and I really appreciate you taking the time. It’s so helpful to have a fresh set of eyes on our work.”

So, tomorrow, when your coworker tells you about their kid’s upcoming birthday party at the water cooler, try to actively listen and engage. It’ll be good for both of you.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. 

-John Donne

About the Author Aubrie Fennecken

Aubrie Fennecken is the Chief Alchemist at Opportunity Kitchen | work + wellness strategist | nonprofit fundraising expert | providing productivity and self-care support for mission-driven humans

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