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The BBC's Stephen Evans
"Tea trollies help bind a workforce into a team"
 real 56k

The BBC's Stephen Evans
"The Industrial Society gurus say gossip has a role"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 03:17 GMT
Office gossip 'makes workers productive'
Office workers
The modern office: What makes it tick?
A study by the Industrial Society says that bringing back the tea lady and the Friday night office drink after work will benefit relations within the workplace.

By the BBC's industry correspondent Stephen Evans

The Industrial Society report finds many of the things you would expect to find.

It indicates that 70% of high earners enjoy their jobs and would keep on working even if they had enough money to live comfortably.

Low earners simply see work as a means to a living - 83% of secretaries, or what used to be called clerks, say "a job is just a job, but life is for living".

It is the prescriptions for policy stemming from the report's conclusions which are perhaps surprising.

Gossip is the cement which holds organisations together

Judith Doyle
Report author
The author, Judith Doyle, believes that many of the institutions discarded in the last two decades should still have a place - institutions like tea trolleys or the Friday night drink in the pub for the whole office.

Before the great revolution in workplaces, there was more time to gossip and socialise and perhaps more opportunity to do it.

The tea trolley was an important part of many working days, and so was the drink after work in the pub round the corner from the office.

'Efficiency' drive

In the human resources revolution, these things ceased to be fashionable.

There was even talk of meeting rooms without chairs so that meetings would be brisk, efficient and over quickly.

Chatter about matters outside work was frowned upon.

Ms Doyle wonders if something was lost from workplaces with this drive for what seemed like efficiency.

"What makes the difference between a good job and a bad job are the intrinsic, emotional elements," she said.

Pint on bar
Many workers no longer meet colleagues for a drink
"Employers should give their staff more room to enjoy their work, and instead of seeing sociability at work as the antitheses to efficiency and productivity, they should see it as crucial to the bottom line."

In other words, happy employees are productive employees.

The Industrial Society does not endorse a "treat 'em mean to keep 'em keen" policy.

"Gossip is the cement which holds organisations together," said Ms Doyle.

"Providing communal space, such as coffee areas or lunch rooms, allows employees to share information, knowledge and build relations that benefits both the company and the employee."

Question of balance

The report, called New Community or New Slavery, questions many of the current assumptions about work and the workplace.

It says there are three beliefs underpinning some of the current fashionable rhetoric: "First, that the divide between work and life is clear. Second, that home or "life" is necessarily positive and, third, that work is a negative drain on our time and energy.

"It should be obvious that for some people home is a place of oppression while work is a place of liberation."

For people wondering how to organise workplaces, it is obviously a question of balance.

But what human resources professionals are starting to believe is that there are intangible benefits from some of the old institutions that many thought had gone.

All gossip and chatting does not make for an efficient company - but neither does no gossip and chat.

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