Council workers told to clock out if they want to chat

Carlisle Council tells staff to stop gassing about the weather and start working harder.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Chances are that at some point today, you'll have been subjected to some casual conversation about the weather, holidays, babies or such like. But how much time should these polite observations be allowed to cut into the working day? Well, none at all, according to killjoy team leaders at Carlisle Council.

Employees in the council’s benefit department were apparently sent an email warning that if they wanted to chat in the office, they’d have to clock out.  The memo, which was sent by two team leaders, also warned the department’s 31 staff not to treat the office like a holiday camp: ‘The way we have worked previously cannot be sustained in the current economic climate and we must all change our ways,’ the email spluttered.

Naturally there will be some employees who favour a tough stance against colleagues who frequently chat for an hour in loud voices while others are trying to work.  But even the council’s deputy chief executive says that email was the wrong way to do it. Dr Jason Gooding said the department’s approach to managing its staff had fallen well below the council’s standards, and that discussions on performance should be conducted face to face. Presumably these conversations will be allowed to go ahead without the need to clock out.

But how much time is actually wasted by employees who smoke, chat, or make endless cups of tea? A survey published by water dispenser firm T6 last month suggested that the average adult spends 24 minutes a day making hot drinks, costing their employers £400 a year. However, like many such surveys, the figures can be misleading (as well as self-serving, natch).  After all, how many employees take their full allocated lunch break? You might also argue that caffeine makes workers more alert and productive - while health and safety officials advise us to take regular breaks from staring at the computer screen.

There’s also the issue that if employees are told to stop taking ‘tea breaks’ they might feel less inclined to put in as much effort.  Just because someone is sat at a computer all day without talking, it doesn’t guarantee that they’re being productive.

It's bound to be a hotly debated issue between disciplinarian bosses who'll argue that people are paid to work rather than chit-chat, and those who believe workers deserve some respite.  Probably best to debate it outside work hours, though…

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