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    It’s time to talk with chatty staff about output

    I supervise a small team of data entry clerks. The work we do can be tedious. Some employees play music to pass the time. Some employees talk to each other. I went on a medical leave and then I returned in March. When I returned, I noticed the chat level has really gotten out of hand. Our productivity has been negatively affected. I don’t want to come off as a strict boss, but how do I get these employees re-focused?

    Let’s start with discussing the positives. Your employees are capable of being productive and focused. You observed their productivity levels before you took your leave of absence. This information is helpful because it tells me that they are capable of returning to that level of performance.

    I always recommend starting with a candid approach. If you have a regular meeting, you could share your observations. Your message might sound like this:


    “I am glad to be back at ABC Inc. I appreciate all of your support since I have returned. I want to share with you an observation though. Before I left for my leave, we were running at X errors per hour. I looked at a few reports earlier this week, and now we are running at a much higher number of errors per hour, maybe around X+20.

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    “I have also noticed a higher level of chattiness. I am OK with the music in the background, but we have to get the chattiness back down to a reasonable level. Does that make sense?’’

    I think if you have data to back up your concerns, it gives your concerns more validity.

    My guess is that the work environment probably became a bit lax when you were on leave.

    It is easy to slip into bad habits. It is better to share your concerns sooner rather than later. You don’t want the chattiness to continue and create a larger problem than it is right now.

    Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton.