Banana Times @Work

I usually tell people, “give me a good book, a cosy couch in a corner and leave me alone!” That’s me… a typical introvert’s way of life.

Yet, during COVID times what I most missed was just walking over to my colleagues’ office, chatting with them for few minutes before heading back to my desk. I never believed I would feel this way, but I did!

Few days back, I was going through my archives from XLRI and came across this paper: Banana Times by Donald Roy. It describes an ethnographic study conducted in the 1940’s factory in America. Three workers toil in an isolated and cramped room with a machine. Through the day, they do rather simple, repetitive work in 12-hour shifts with almost no outside contact with anyone.

The author, a participant observer, in the ethnographic study writes that they had to deal with two formidable beasts: ‘monotony’ and ‘exhaustion’. The long day’s grind was broken by ritualistic short breaks, almost routine in nature and involved a series of informal interactions: banana time, peach time, window time, coke time etc. They occurred almost hourly and so short in duration that they disrupted work activity ever so slightly.

The significance of these interruptions were not so much of rest pauses, but simple interactions with others to derive fun and joy in otherwise a monotonous work. The author through this ethnographic study infers that “enjoyment of communication for its own sake – as mere sociability and free conversations – brings job satisfaction”. 

Curious, I read up few other recent studies to check the link between informal conversations at work and job satisfaction. Indeed there is a causal relationship.

Extending it to our workplaces today, fortunately no jobs are so mind numbingly monotonous! Every job today brings opportunity for creativity. Yet, the informal interactions with our colleagues play a big role in:

  • facilitating bonds and stronger relationships
  • exchange of ideas and creativity
  • enhancing energy at work

What’s your experience with informal conversations at work? Would love to hear…

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