The effects of isolation became real for millions after Covid forced the majority of the workforce into remote work. The impact is still felt by many workers that have chosen to continue working from home even after their companies’ offices opened back up.
Remote work created a work environment where employees are cooped up in front of their computers without any physical interaction with colleagues. The usual walks from the cafeteria to the desk, or the little chit-chats near the water cooler were all part of the routines that made heavy office days and the rigamarole of professional lives tolerable, and even fun. But remote work has evaporated most of that. So… what is workplace isolation and what are the effects of it?
What Is Workplace Isolation?
As the name suggests, isolation at the workplace is a lack of connection felt by the employee towards his/her employer and co-workers. This can result from a number of different factors, broadly categorized into the following:
Lack of Colleague Bonding
The employee may not have a very good experience with his/her colleagues. The lack of connection or the emergence of significant differences may result in lesser or no workplace friends. This has significantly increased due to the advent of remote work.
Lack of an Engaging Workplace
The employee may have friends in the workplace, but the office may not have ways to keep employees engaged. This may lead to the employee seeking outside avenues for connection and break off from the traditional office hoopla.
Lack of Work-Life Balance
Sometimes, despite the best efforts of the office administration, work-life balance may be so skewed in a negative direction that the employee can feel lonely.
Social Isolation Effects
Social isolation effects are damaging. Isolation can be difficult, especially over a prolonged period of time. On a personal level, isolation can lead to a barrage of effects on the mental and physical health of an employee. To name a few: depression, impaired executive function, poor sleep quality, and faster cognitive decline. It can also result in poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity.
On a professional level, this can result in a gradual loss of productivity, a lack of interest in work, and professional short-sightedness. For the employer, this means a less productive and less-than-enthusiastic work force with low morale. Studies have shown this directly impacts the company’s bottom-line.
All these words sound scary, but only recently have we started realizing the importance of mental well-being. The prevailing thought used to center purely around physical well-being without an iota of thought being spared towards the mental side of things. Industries such as investment banking and management consulting were notorious for their round-the-clock work schedules. Mental health awareness is a relatively new phenomenon, and it is time we had an open conversation about it.
Dealing With Isolation At Work
Now that we have established the degree of seriousness with which isolation and the associated mental health risks should be addressed, it is time to look at solutions.
When it comes to dealing with isolation at work, employee appreciation is a crucial component of the toolkit to improve employee morale. Long term, it also improves employee productivity and retention. Someone who feels under-valued may rapidly swing from being an asset to the firm to being a liability.
Making Employees Feel Valued
A few ways to make an employee feel like a valuable member of the team:
- Small tokens of appreciation: A gift here and there is always welcome.
- Be generous with praise: No one dislikes praise. This often results in a morale boost and may even result in a healthy competition.
- Give the employee visibility: This is a much undervalued form of showing the employee that he/she is valued.
A survey found employees who felt appreciated by their employers to be 38% more engaged and 18% more likely to go the extra mile in their day to day tasks. Additionally, 80% of employees said recognition motivated them to work harder.
Day-to-day work life balance is another area that can be addressed. Some ways this pattern can be broken:
- Taking time off: A flexible holiday scheme for mental wellness is fast gaining popularity as a way to break the monotony of the workplace.
- Activities outside of work: In order to create an engaging workplace environment, team activities or outings can be arranged (ex: office happy hours, annual company trips)
Finally, honest conversation can also be a part of the effort to rid the workplace of isolation and its associated negative effects. A safe space is needed for employees to open up about their concerns and look for possible solutions.
Workplace isolation has become real for many since the pandemic engulfed the world. With employees trying to keep productivity levels up, efforts on the employer’s part to solve these issues become paramount – not just for the bottom-line, but for employees’ well-being and the overall success of the company.
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