What is Work Isolation and how to prevent it?
As humans, we have an innate need to feel connected and engaged with others. Feeling lonely can have a significant impact on both physical and mental health. Social isolation increases the risk of mental illness, sleep problems, reduced immune function, increased risk for heart disease, and shortened lifespan. The list is endless.
Unfortunately, this innate need isn’t forgotten when you clock into work. With Covid-19 increasing the demand for remote work arrangements, workplace isolation was at a high. The pandemic didn’t cause these feelings, though, and they’ll continue to exist beyond this devastating time.
When you think about the words isolation and loneliness, what comes to mind first?
You probably see images of an empty, barren plain of land absent of humanity, or perhaps you picture someone who has been locked away from the rest of the world. These examples sound very isolating and lonely; however, they aren’t the only way to explain those feelings.
Isolation doesn’t always equate to being alone. In the workplace, feelings of isolation can and do occur. You can be in an office filled with 200 people and still feel lonely. Workplace isolation is about feeling disconnected from your colleagues.
When in the workplace, these feelings can take on many forms and have many contributing factors:
- Remote work – Virtual employees might feel a disconnect from the rest of their team.
- Personality differences – Personalities can clash, causing misunderstandings. If not dealt with, further issues can arise and cause self-imposed isolation.
- Poor cultural fit – The new hire doesn’t align with the current company culture and environment.
- Subpar onboarding – New hires, especially remote, aren’t integrated well with their colleagues.
Why should you care about Work Isolation?
Along with its devastating mental and physical effects, prolonged feelings of isolation can ultimately wreck your bottom line. Isolation diminishes productivity, can cause further withdrawal from the team or increased work absences and weaken overall team performance. As a result, this impacts your business’s revenue and increases business expenses. The mental and physical effects can lead to higher costs for sick leave, increased health insurance claims, high turnover, making hiring more costly. Alternatively, creating positive social relationships and strong colleague bonds can increase retention and productivity and see your bottom line flourish.
8 steps to prevent workplace isolation:
- Hire inclusively
- Maintain open communications/transparency
- Changing the physical space
- Building community with ERG
- Celebrate successes/positive affirmations
- Team building opportunities
- Embrace mindfulness
- Lead with empathy
To limit isolation, you need to hire the right people. When hiring, look for people who appear compatible with your work environment and current team. Assess candidates’ motivations and how they will contribute to the company culture. If your work environment is more social
During recruitment, be aware of hiring bias. Although they can have consequential effects on the hiring process, we often aren’t even aware of our biases. Recognizing unconscious bias before recruiting can increase diversity and limit feelings of isolation.
Maintain open communication/transparency
Have an open line of communication and maintain transparency, so no one feels left out. Regularly check in with employees and encourage open feedback. Ideally, your team should be comfortable coming to you with any concerns or suggestions. Provide a platform for employees to share new ideas through general townhalls freely.
You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk? It’s one thing to tell your employees you have an “open-door policy,” but do you actually? If an employee confides in you, are you actively listening? What does your body say that your words don’t? Pay attention to how employees might perceive you based on body language and tone.
Keep your employees in the loop on any significant company changes or decisions. No one likes to be left in the dark, so why shut out your employees? Being transparent helps to build trust and reminds your employees you’re a safe person to come to.
Changing the physical space
How is your office arranged? Does it encourage interaction? Are people in cubicles or separate offices with doors shut? Do you have a common area or breakroom?
Every office is different, and not all arrangements will work for everyone. However, the physical setup of your office might enable feelings of isolation. Invest in making your workplace a space that nurtures employee engagement and enables productivity while respecting personal space. While individual workstations are still needed, sprucing up the break room can make a difference. Providing a comfortable and enjoyable space is a great incentive to get people to interact.
Building community with ERG and affinity groups
ERGs or employee resource groups are made up and participated in by employees with a shared characteristic, often referring to ethnicity, religion or gender. ERGs aim to foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace and create communities for traditionally marginalized or underrepresented employees.
While employees typically start ERGS, senior leaders can and should foster ERGs.
Leaders can help establish ERGs, set goals and access resources. Having an executive sponsor can help foster inclusion and help the ERG thrive. Leaders should also use company resources such as internal newsletters or online conversation channels to promote ERGs and help those looking to get involved.
Affinity groups are similar to ERGs. However, they are more structured around employees’ hobbies and interests like food, sports, photography or other common interests. Overall, forming communities of like-minded individuals can help employees combat isolation and build strong social relationships.
Celebrate successes/positive affirmations
A simple yet effective way to combat isolation is through praise. Why dwell on the negatives when you can celebrate the positives? Foster a positive work culture through modelling behaviour such as daily positive feedback.
Celebrating success can take many forms, but it doesn’t have to be a formal event for it to be effective. During team meetings or quick morning chats, praise employee achievements, whether for hitting a milestone or finishing a major project. Frequent positive affirmations demonstrate that all accomplishments, big or small, matter. All employees have an essential role to play, and positive affirmations can help them feel recognized, reducing feelings of isolation.
Team building opportunities
Create opportunities for your team to come together and bond. These can involve a third party leading the group in team-building workshops, a contest or competition, monthly or quarterly catered lunches, forming an intramural league or just grabbing a drink together after work.
Be aware of project flows and deadlines to ensure team bonding opportunities don’t cause unnecessary stress as employees have to juggle work and activities. Another way to get your team involved ahead of time is to get employee suggestions on activities. Deciding as a group will ensure your team-building activity is one everyone is excited and on board with.
At the end of the day, our jobs are still work, and work can be stressful. When combining work with life stressors, it’s easy to become burned out and feel isolated from colleagues. To keep on top of mental health, try embracing mindfulness and meditation.
Mindfulness and meditation can teach people to address challenging emotions through breathing techniques, listening to one’s body, and taking emotional inventory. These are all techniques that can address feelings of isolation.
Though every team is different, everyone can benefit from mindfulness. It’s just about finding a suitable delivery method. Consider introducing guided meditation sessions or offering free or discounted subscriptions to apps like Calm or Headspace. Additionally, you can encourage regular break times or offer paid time off to use for self-care and wellness.
Lead with empathy
Going beyond wellness programs and concrete workplace initiatives, having empathy is another strategy employers can put into practice to address employee loneliness and isolation. After almost two years into the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to lead with empathy. Employers should practice compassion and discuss the best approaches based on everyone’s needs to ensure an environment of psychological safety.
Live Assets is a boutique IT Staffing/Recruiting firm specializing exclusively in building IT teams of excellence for the Information Technology sector.
We are a small, but productive team that works closely together and has had a 96% success rate for the past number of years!
We have a diverse number of clients and industries and focus on both full-time and contract I.T. opportunities.