Talking sports at work can be a much needed break from the stresses of difficult daily tasks and responsibilities. It has the power to improve the mood and culture of the workplace, while at the same time be a hampering annoyance. As with any situation, a healthy and positive balance of sports chatter is difficult to maintain.

Advantages of Sports Chatter at Work
First, let’s take a look at the advantages of talking sports at work. Sports talk has the potential to unite an office. It has the special power to bring people together and forge bonds that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Sports are so popular that almost every office is likely to have at least a few sports fanatics. This common ground can bring people together and create the team atmosphere that employers crave.

Oftentimes, offices with sports fans will host fantasy football leagues to spark friendly competition among co-workers. Keep in mind that workplace gambling should not be condoned and is even illegal in most states. Some offices hosted parties to support the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team in the World Cup this past summer. Some employees may even have internet on the go to stream the games at their favorite lunch spots with coworkers. This is the type of lighthearted fun that can make showing up to work an experience that employees look forward to.

Breaking the Ice
Sports chatter at work also serves as an ice breaker. Discussing feats of athleticism tends to be a great equalizer as it bridges employees of different ranks, departments and demographics. It allows co-workers to begin conversations in an informal manner that can segue into more important, work-related topics. This transition is often key to securing the trust of co-workers and putting them in a positive and talkative mood. The truth is that nobody wants to be in an office where only work topics are discussed.

Cultivation of Relationships
The subject of sports allows interpersonal relationships to transcend the workplace. Often these conversations will lead to the formation of relationships that extend beyond the office boundaries. Co-workers who love sports will usually meet up after work to watch a game or play in recreational sports leagues. Sports cultivate and strengthen bonds that otherwise might be weak or not exist in the first place.

Disadvantages of Sports Chatter at Work
There is also a dark side to sports chatter at work. It has the potential to completely disrupt the work flow and hamper productivity. Some employees become so absorbed in sports talk that they lose sight of their work responsibilities and can’t get back on track after the conversations take place.

Fantasy Sports
While fantasy sports and company-sponsored watch parties can create workplace bonds and foster camaraderie, they can also be distracting during work hours. Employees may often use their time at work to conduct statistical research, make trades, and track their fantasy teams. These activities can lead to spirited conversations and negotiations that not only disrupt the productivity of those involved, but also those around who are not included.

Alienation
Sports fans need to realize that not everyone in the office is into athletics. Constant sports chatter has the potential to isolate co-workers who have no interest in the subject. A study of Harvard Business School graduates shows that men initiate 85% of sports conversations in the workplace. Those with no interest in sports may feel left out, proving the opposite effect of the cultivation of relationships discussed earlier. Some of your brightest minds may feel they don’t fit in with the culture of the workplace that can, at times, be dominated by sports chatter.

With such a wide following, sports have the powerful ability to improve the atmosphere of a workplace, while also harming it at the same time. Finding and enforcing a healthy balance may be a constant challenge for management, but it could prove to be a key piece to a positively perceived workplace culture.