Managing Employee Isolation

Today’s workplace isn’t what it used to be. Set work schedules, a best friend at work, and gatherings at the water cooler—once fixtures of every workplace—all seem to be relics of a bygone era. But this decline of human interaction comes at a price: Studies show that without it, employees may be less inclined to put in discretionary effort, making productivity a casualty of employee loneliness. Technology allowing remote work—even in response to employee requests for flexibility—can contribute to feelings of isolation.

Today, benefits packages often include work/life balance options. Work/life balance refers to the time employees need to manage their work duties and their personal responsibilities, including family, home, friends, and personal care and interests. One way employers are helping employees achieve work/life balance is by agreeing to let them work from home or elsewhere. According to the Employers Council 2017 Miscellaneous Benefits & Pay Practices Survey, 72 percent of Colorado employers, 55 percent of Wyoming employers, and 77 percent of Arizona employers provide some level of work-location flexibility. An unintended consequence of remote work is increasing feelings of isolation among employees.

Remote work is not the only factor causing employee isolation. Organizations that are becoming more diverse, by gender, age, race, national origin, and religion, without considering updating policies or practices, may also breed isolation. For example, cultural and religious holidays celebrated by each employee should be acknowledged. A simple message from HR or leadership with good wishes for a significant day or for a special occasion can help alleviate the feeling of being alone. A quick search of the internet can help identify holidays that may pertain to your organization’s workforce.

Another practice to consider to combat workplace isolation is on-boarding. Do new employees have regular and meaningful contact with a variety of coworkers? What about meetings or other interactive activities? Are tasks that could prevent employees from attending regular meetings scheduled at various times to encourage everyone’s participation at least some of the time?

Managers should make interaction with each employee a priority. Sending emails may be easier, but developing connections with employees will help alleviate isolation. If possible, hold meetings in different locations or periodically change where people sit. Celebrate individual and group accomplishments publicly. Schedule the occasional social activity—team lunches for example—during the workday.

Wherever employees work, make sure they feel a part of the organization’s activities to keep employees engaged and productive.