Look around your office. Chances are someone sitting near you feels isolated at work.
Those feelings can negatively impact employee morale, productivity and engagement. It can ultimately cause employees to look for new jobs. Having happy, engaged employees contributes positively to your bottom line.
But tackling workplace isolation goes beyond making everyone get along. To eliminate workplace isolation at your company, you should understand what it is, how to spot it and then work to help your team overcome it.
Understanding workplace isolation
Workplace isolation isn’t about whether or not employees participate in water cooler talk. It’s whether they feel like they don’t fit in, don’t feel as if they’re welcome or if they feel left out.
- May have nothing to do with employees not getting along or not fitting into a work clique
- Are often about lack of engagement versus negative engagement
- Includes an employee feeling as if they don’t belong
- Can lead to decreased productivity and negative morale
It’s important to recognize the difference between workplace isolation and workplace bullying. Just because someone feels isolated doesn’t necessarily mean that bullying is taking place. If the isolation is intentional, it’s an indication of workplace bullying and needs to be addressed promptly and properly.
It’s also important to note that some employees may have an introverted nature. They may prefer to focus on work and aren’t concerned with socializing. Yet they still feel a bond with the team and everyone works well together.
Identifying workplace isolation
The first step in identifying workplace isolation is to pay attention.
- Engage in face-to-face conversations with your team throughout the office.
- As you walk around, observe how individual team members engage with one another.
This can help highlight potential issues. Perhaps you notice that two or three employees are chatting, yet another team member is never there. That might indicate an isolation issue.
Identifying workplace isolation can be as simple as someone approaching you about a problem. Regularly check in with employees to gauge how they’re doing. Allow employees to provide essential feedback in order to address their concerns. Create an open environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their observations and thoughts.
If an employee shares an isolation concern, give them the opportunity to discuss the situation to help you find a solution.
Keep in mind: Everyone demonstrates their engagement differently. They may not chat with other team members a lot, but are open when asked questions or jump in when someone needs help. In those cases, isolation is a choice and is probably not hampering the overall team or your productivity.
Breaking through isolation issues
1. Hire inclusively.
To help build a team that works well together, understand the motivations of new team members. When hiring, look for people who will work well in your environment and with the current team.
Look for a cultural fit: Don’t add a team member who prefers to work alone if you have an environment that’s more social and conversational, or vice versa. When you onboard new team members help them fit in from day one.
2. Focus on people.
If you identify a problem, bring the group together to discuss different communications styles and expectations.
Let the group talk about what they’d like to see in the team’s interaction, breaking down what team members are looking for. Understand that not everyone is motivated by the same things.
Recognizing and being respectful of those differences is key.
3. Maintain open communication.
Make sure people don’t feel left out. Check in with everyone on a regular basis and encourage open feedback.
If someone’s feeling isolated:
- Ask them what they would like to see in the situation.
- Be considerate of their feelings.
- Look for ways to address their concerns.
4. Realize everyone is different.
Every workplace features a blend of personalities, a range of age groups and a mix of cultural backgrounds. Everyone brings different talents to the table, but they’re all part of the team.
The goal is working together for the company. Make sure everyone feels valued, no matter what their differences are.
5. Create engagement opportunities.
If you hold departmental meetings, make it about more than just work.
Build in opportunities for team members to share something about themselves. It can be as simple as the highlight of their weekend or something great that happened last week.
Use these types of casual icebreakers to help the team get to know one another on a personal level.
6. Foster camaraderie.
Is your office arranged to encourage interaction? Is everyone in separate offices, or are doors always closed? Is there a common area or breakroom that allows for interaction?
Consider an office layout that nurtures employee interaction, yet contributes to productivity and respects personal space.
7. Build a positive culture.
The obvious point of a workplace is to get work done. In some office environments, small talk is taboo. But if you want to function as a collaborative team, there needs to be some sort of personal connection.
Allow time for people to chat and get to know each other. Casual conversation can help build a positive team environment.
8. Involve the employee.
To fully tackle workplace isolation, everyone on the team must play a role.
- Encourage the employee who feels isolated to interact with the team. Something as simple as saying, “hello” and engaging in small talk goes a long way.
- Offer ideas to help them connect, such as leaving their office door open or joining in coffee breaks with other team members.
- Help foster relationships by suggesting common ground where the employee can start conversations and build connections.
9. Offer team-building opportunities.
Rather than dictate what team building activities everyone must participate in, look to your team for suggestions.
Be aware of project flow and deadlines, so a team building event doesn’t create more team stress as they work to juggle both the event and their workload.
Offer flexibility in activities and timing to create team building activities everyone will enjoy.
10. Celebrate successes.
Coming together as a group to share in a collective success can help a team bond. That includes public recognition of a team member who goes the extra mile or scored a win for the company.
Encouraging employees to cheer each other on can melt the ice and help communication flow beyond that celebration. The celebration itself can help isolated members feel like part of the team.
Taking steps to address workplace isolation can boost morale, which can make your business more productive and successful. To learn more about employee engagement, download our complimentary magazine: The Insperity guide to employee engagement.