Are you concerned that your employees may be lonely or feel isolated? It turns out that feeling isolated at work is more common than some may think. Understanding when this is an issue and knowing what to do to rectify the problem can go a long way toward creating a successful workplace.
Learn more about isolation at work, why connection matters, and how to encourage communication in a business as you continue reading.
Facts About Employees Feeling Isolated at Work
Is it normal to feel alone at work? The Harvard Business Review (HBR) discovered that over 40% of the 1,000 US respondents contacted for a survey admitted they felt emotionally and physically isolated at their place of work. The respondents included people from all walks of life, including different ethnicities, genders, and generations. This indicates that many people are feeling isolated at work and want to feel a better sense of connection with others in the workplace.
Most people look at home for support first. The next place people seek out support is the workplace, although feeling isolated at work may keep them from doing so. This is followed by neighborhood communities and places of worship. However, since many people are at work more than anywhere else, removing barriers to workplace belonging is essential.
In addition, The Guardian reports that 42% of people have no close friends at work.
One of The Guardian readers anonymously confessed to feeling alone, saying: “There’s no one at the place where I spend much of my waking life to whom I can turn when I want to confide my fears, to moan about the upper echelons, to worry away about what’s happening at home.” This statement resonated with other readers a lot. From their 800+ responses, it’s clear that people have to develop their own strategies to cope with loneliness and isolation – from intentional check-ins with their colleagues to arranging badminton groups, curry nights, and similar activities.
Should companies and team leaders be more proactive in encouraging connection?
What is the value of connection for businesses?
Based on the above, it’s clear that many workers feel that belonging to a group in the workplace is essential. HBR quantified the value of workplace belonging, both with correlational and experimental findings. Correlational and experimental findings are available regarding this common trend of feeling isolated at work. The study confirms that companies reap substantial bottom-line benefits if workers feel like they belong.
The individuals who felt a high sense of belonging in the workplace were more productive at their job. Job performance had a whopping 56% increase while turnover risk went down 50% compared to those feeling isolated at work. The high-belonging team members also had a 75% reduction in sick days. For a company with 10,000 employees, high belonging could result in annual savings of $52 million or more.
These weren’t the only benefits associated with employees having a greater feeling of workplace belonging. These individuals had a 167% increase in their employer promoter score (which refers to how willing an employee is to recommend their place of work to the people around them). In addition, those who are not feeling isolated at work received 18 times more promotions and double the raises of those who feel out of the loop.
How do you know when employees are feeling isolated?
Sometimes it can be hard to identify the problem, especially with all of the regular work tasks demanding your attention. Those employees that are silently suffering in isolation or loneliness can easily slip through the cracks. There are things that both the employee and their team members can do to recognize the problem and do something to make a positive shift. So what are the symptoms of being isolated? Here are some signs of loneliness and isolation to look out for in your team members:
- A decline in productivity, organization, and interest
- Decreased participation in team meetings and activities
- Low confidence or self-esteem
- Passive or even aggressive attitudes
- Increased distraction and forgetfulness
- Lack of friendships in the workplace
- Poor physical and mental health
- Increasingly sporadic work schedule or use of sick days
- Showing little interest in career development
Identifying team members that are struggling socially in the workplace can be a tricky and sometimes daunting task, but helping even that one person feel more comfortable as part of the team can create a more positive and productive team environment overall. You may also discover that those individuals have a lot more to offer than you realized once they feel safe and connected because they are then more willing to participate and let their talents shine. Making time for frequent individual check-ins with each of your team members will give you more opportunities to notice these signs when they show up.
How Companies and Team Leaders Can Be More Proactive in Encouraging Connection
According to McKinsey & Company, finding a way to incorporate informal interactions both within teams and across teams is an excellent method to encourage meaningful connection in the workplace. Making space for these light interactions allows leaders to create better trust-building and more social cohesion in teams.
Leave free room in meetings – When meetings are occurring, one method of cultivating informal communication is leaving part of the agenda blank. This time can be used for employees to talk about any topics that are on their minds. Individuals can connect and get to know each other without a specific subject that needs to be adhered to.
Make room for less formal interaction – Whether it is in person or virtual, hosting team chats, lunches, or activities gives employees opportunities to participate in stress-free conversations with leaders and teammates. When team members know how to connect with each other in these less formal situations, they are more likely to feel comfortable communicating and connecting at work as well. (Luckily you’re in the right place, Teamraderie offers several exciting team-building activities for both remote and in-person offices!)
Keep the doors open – Another way to foster connections is by creating a policy of the leaders’ doors being open. Rather than leaving the space open to topics related to work, let employees know they can step in to talk about their superiors less formally. This will make them feel more confident about reaching out about any issue on their mind.
Include them in decisions – Including struggling team members in conversations about important decisions makes them feel more trusted and respected. When they know their input is valued by others, they are more likely to give it. It also fosters more equality and confidence among team members when they are not under the impression of a hierarchy of importance within the team.
Further learning and training – Team members feeling lonely may feel more valued and connected if they are told that they are just the right person for an important job or responsibility. Identify tasks that could be delegated out and fit well with their strengths and offer the opportunity. That may just be the little kick they need to get their enthusiasm and confidence levels back to a good place.
Even when people are feeling isolated at work, they might be happy to have an opportunity to change that. Making sure employees can connect with peers, leaders, and other teams is a huge part of the process. Once those abilities are put in place, more workers will feel as if they belong which offers a host of benefits, such as being more engaged, motivated, and productive.
What are the implications of isolation for teams?
When someone at your company is feeling isolated at work, it isn’t something that affects them in a vacuum. It can also affect the business as a whole. Feelings of isolation and loneliness may make it harder for the team to communicate. When communication breaks down, it can take any feeling of cohesion with it.
It’s important to provide methods for employees to connect to repair any areas of the team that might be experiencing issues due to a lack of connection.
The last few years have proven that teams can work just as well on a virtual basis as in a shared physical location. However, some people may find the remote environment tied to feeling isolated at work and becoming lonelier.
Creating shared virtual experiences can be a solution to this issue. Make sure employees have a way to connect and a formal for informal interactions. This can cut down on isolation for distributed team members.
Remember, those who are not feeling isolated at work experience a selection of benefits. These workers tend to be the most engaged within teams in addition to being highly productive and connected with others near them.
Looking for opportunities for team members to communicate in low-stakes situations can be a boon for the workplace as a whole.
The more employees communicate, whether about work agendas or other things, the more they will find things they have in common. Employees who let others get to know them are more likely to make friends with others in the workplace. This can make work a place of excitement and enjoyment. It can prevent people from feeling isolated at work and make a team stronger.