Published Online:https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2018.1474

Small talk—trivial communication not core to task completion—is normative and ubiquitous in organizations. Although small talk comprises up to one-third of adults’ speech, its effects in the workplace have been largely discounted. Yet, research has suggested that small talk may have important consequences for employees. Integrating theories of interaction rituals and microrole transitions, we explore how and why seemingly inconsequential workday conversations meaningfully impact employees’ experiences. In a sample of employed adults, we used an experience sampling method to capture within-individual variation in small talk over a three-week period. Given that we are the first to examine small talk as an episodic phenomenon, we also conducted a validation of our daily small talk measure with master’s students and two samples of employed adults. Using multilevel path analysis, results show that small talk enhanced employees’ daily positive social emotions at work, which heightened organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB) and enhanced well-being at the end of the workday; furthermore, small talk disrupted employees’ ability to cognitively engage in their work, which compromised their OCB. Additionally, higher levels of trait-level self-monitoring mitigated negative effects of small talk on work engagement. Combined, results suggest that the polite, ritualistic, and formulaic nature of small talk is uplifting yet also distracting.

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