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The Water Cooler Effect: How Does It Work?

If you own a business, you may be familiar with a concept known as the water cooler effect: while on breaks or in between projects, employees will gather around the company's bottleless water cooler service (often in or near the break room) to socialize and take a breather. As a result of this casual interaction, workers are supposed to be more productive and have a more positive impact on the business as a whole.

Surprisingly, it's more than just a theory. Several studies have found that commercial water dispensers placed in convenient locations can increase employee productivity between 10% and 15%, a staggering amount even in the biggest of businesses. But just what is the cause?

Work Hard, Socialize Hard

It all comes down to a simple idea revolving around group cohesion. Cohesion is defined as your connection to your work friends and colleagues; how tightly woven and interconnected is your personal network? Are your friends also friends with each other? Predictably, cohesion plays a major role in both job satisfaction and productivity. When employees are able to take the time to chat and bond, they are happier, and happier employees get more done. Alex "Sandy" Pentland of the MIT Media Library sums up what can be learned from the phenomenon quite simply.

"First of all, it underscores that we are all social animals and that our connection with others at a local level -- our tribe -- is vitally important. Second, with increased cohesion likely comes an increase in things such as shared tacit knowledge, shared attitudes and work habits, and social support."

This happens most easily through office chat; when your workers are about to talk about how to manage specific situations, people, and problems, they go on to share tips, and end up improving their life-work balance. Commercial water dispensers act as a gateway of sorts into this profound benefit; because we all drink water (global consumption of bottled water continues to increase by 10% each year), the water cooler offers an opportunity for your employees to take advantage of. "Water cooler talk," as unproductive as it might look, is actually one of the best assets your company can possess.

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