Workplace isolation. Why employees feel it (and how you can fix it)

by Amy Simpson

Workplace isolation

Feeling isolated at work can be the difference between loving your job and dreading the thought of Monday morning. But your employees couldn’t be feeling that way… could they?

It doesn’t matter how big and bustling your company is, how much time you've spent focusing on employee engagement, or the workplace culture you're working so hard to build – many people carry the burden of feeling lonely and isolated at work.

Even before the pandemic, there were various reasons behind this workplace isolation. but now, as businesses look for ways to connect people working remotely and create connected cultures in an increasingly hybrid working world, it's make-or-break for both organizations and employees alike. But what do people mean when they talk about workplace isolation?

business leader connects with an employee using video

What is workplace isolation?

What is workplace isolation?

When investigating levels of employee engagement, Gallup asked the question: “Do you have a best friend at work?” The response was interesting. Only 2 in 10 respondents strongly agreed with the statement.

This lack of connection has implications for productivity. Steve Miranda of Cornell University believes that a lack of friendships at work or social connection can be bad for people – and bad for business.

According to Miranda, people make less “discretionary effort” when they feel isolated. They’re less motivated to do more than the minimum. And as productivity suffers, so too can your bottom line.

Many employers and managers may think isolation isn’t one of their workplace issues. But take a careful look at your workplace. Would you notice anything to suggest an employee feels this way?

How can you help prevent workplace isolation?

Here are four things to look out for, and some suggestions for improving business communication with employees to help encourage more connection in the workplace.

Does your physical workspace encourage interaction?

The buildings where people work can magnify feelings of isolation. Organizations with different teams that are physically distant can experience negative workplace issues. One of the most likely is feelings of loneliness and isolation from peers. Silos which can stifle productivity.

Successful companies are looking at how the working environment can increase meaningful interactions in the workplace. And how these, in turn, can boost productivity, happiness and the fortunes of the company. In the future of work, being open for business may extend to the very fabric of the building itself.

If you can’t redesign your workspaces straight away, make sure you have as open an approach as possible.

Promote interactions between different teams so nobody feels on the fringes. Mix teams up. Use digital tools that enable people to understand their role in the organization. Tools to help find and collaborate with others in quick and effective ways. Chat, video calls and Live broadcasts help video engagement to bring bring people together when the physical environment can’t.

Is there a wide age gap within the company?

An imbalance of age and experience can lead to workplace isolation. In organizations where there are concentrations of age groups, people can feel isolated and unwelcome in professional or social situations. They may feel like they have no one to talk to and unable to relate to others. How can you give a helping hand to make people feel part of one united team? Can new technologies or working practices help bridge the gap?

Are you integrating your new hires?

When you begin working in a new company, it’s nice to feel like the company is making an effort to include you. It can be nerve-wracking and difficult to infiltrate a tight-knit group. If there are new employees in your office, extend a welcoming hand and help encourage the rest of the team to do so too.

business leader connects with an employee using video

Video engagement is an authentic way to prevent workplace isolation

How can you combat workplace isolation?

Employers can help with the integration of employees so there is a sense of support and friendship between them.

Do lunch – the company that eats together stays together. Arrange some after work drinks on the company tab. Many people dread compulsory ‘organized fun” – but these simple events can make all the difference when it comes to people making friends in the workplace.

Use digital chat platforms so people can join together to collaborate and talk about projects. And they can talk about other things, too – joining social online groups with colleagues who share their interests. Having open and expressive conversations with people in the same ways they talk to their non-work friends.

The emoticon, the funny GIF or a shared video can be a great way for people to build more meaningful relationships with those they work with. And new communication platforms could be a way to prevent feelings of workplace isolation from ever appearing in the first place.

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