Loneliness and the Workplace

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Workplace isolation comes in many forms. And it’s on the rise. There’s the most obvious example of loneliness, where a worker genuinely doesn’t see or interact with their coworkers because of a clear physical separation.

Fully Remote Teams

As of September 2018, 5.2% of American workers worked from home. That figure was up from under 3.5% in 2000. That doesn’t factor in workers who have the option of working from home periodically, or those whose roles require them to travel often or work out of an office setting. Working from home is not a trend that appears to be on the decline—so what can HR teams do to ensure that physical distance doesn’t lead to emotional isolation?

It may seem obvious, but the best possible solution is to ensure remote teams and workers are brought physically together, cost and time permitting. Flying in a small team can be expensive, so nobody will blame you if instead of regular company retreats you opt for a more digital approach. Implement tools that encourage more immediate communication, like Slack, and hold regular video calls to simply touch base with employees. Both can lead to distraction, but can be useful components of an overall strategy of healthy remote work culture.

On-Site, Mysteriously Disengaged Workers

If you’ve worked in HR for long, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a formerly extroverted, engaged worker retreat into their shell, and begin to remove themselves socially and professionally while at work. Perhaps it’s an employee you don’t know super well. But to the best of your knowledge there wasn’t any sort of incident at work that could have contributed to this. What can you do?

There isn’t always a clear roadmap to overcoming this very particular obstacle, but one good rule of thumb as an HR professional is to not assume it’s something personal. While it’s not unheard of for personal issues to overflow into employee’s work life, chances are, there’s something that can be done to alleviate the sense of isolation—self-imposed or not—they are experiencing. Talk to employees who seem disengaged. See what’s going on. Don’t make assumptions.

And it’s best to get ahead of these issues before they worsen. Even in open concept offices, people can feel isolated and lonely. Arranging off-site activities for employees to interact as people, and not just colleagues, can be a great way to ensure everyone feels connected to their team.

On-Site, Workers Facing Negative Experiences

The above scenarios leading to workplace loneliness are by no means easy to tackle, but their root causes aren’t necessarily nefarious either. This last example is different. 

Workers who have experienced unfair treatment at the office can feel extraordinarily isolated. They shy away from sharing their negative experiences for a variety of reasons—fear of retribution, concern over being believed, not wanting to shake things up—but the outcome is the same. Workers facing negative experiences who have yet to voice their experiences can feel distant and removed from even their closest work colleagues.

This is where Speakfully can help. Speakfully provides a secure, trustworthy platform for employees to voice their negative workplace experiences to HR—find out more about the platform to see if it could be a good fit for your organization!