Mental isolation at work

Seven ways to tackle mental isolation

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Think about the last time you really felt isolated at work. I don’t mean the isolation that the world is currently experiencing due to the Corona pandemic that has forced people into isolation from their colleagues. Regardless of where you work or how many people you are surrounded with physically, mental isolation can happen under any circumstance. Those feelings can negatively impact your morale and engagement. It could ultimately cause you to look for a new job. Engaged employees contribute positively to your bottom line. Tackling isolation at work goes beyond making everyone get along. To remove isolation, you should understand what it is, how to spot it and then work to help overcome it. Isolation isn’t about whether or not you talk to each other over lunch. It’s whether you think you don’t fit in. Whenever possible it’s about checking with each other and finding out how everyone is doing, what’s on their mind and importantly how are they feeling. An open environment where people feel comfortable sharing their observations and thoughts is essential. Here are some ideas to help break through isolation at work.

1. Focus on people
If you identify a communication 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 interactions, breaking down what team members are looking for. Understand that not everyone is motivated by the same things. Recognising and being respectful of those differences is key.

2. 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 the previous week. Use these types of casual icebreakers to help the team get to know one another on a personal level.

3. 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.

4. Open communications
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 change in the situation. Look for ways to address their concerns.

5. Everyone is different
Every workplace features a range of personalities, age groups and a mix of cultures. 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.

6. Encourage camaraderie
Is your work place arranged to encourage interaction? Even in these times of home-office, the openness and availability of your colleagues are crucial for preventing the feelings of isolation. Are the doors – metaphoric or actual – always closed or open and inviting? Of course, it is important to set healthy boundaries – especially when working from home – to establish what the working hours are and not infringing on personal / family time.

7. Involve everyone
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. Help foster relationships by suggesting common ground where the employee can start conversations and build connections.

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