“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main,” written by John Donne 400 years ago, this quote is as relevant now in regards to isolation in the workplace as it was then. Today’s society of being continually connected and logged in doesn’t always translate into an engaged and communicative workforce.
Even if you work in a busy office surrounded by people, isolation and exclusion in the workplace can be detrimental to your everyday work experience. This can lead to mental health problems, staff turnover and a decrease in productivity and can be as damaging as bullying in the workplace. Isolation is not as overt as bullying however there are signs that you can recognise in colleagues, workers and yourself and ways to implement actions to remedy the situation.
Communication is the first step towards connecting people and as leaders relying on emails and text to send messages and information, although necessary in some cases, it can also be delivered in person. Going the extra mile to have a face to face meeting or giving an encouraging word to a worker at their desk lets them know you are approachable if a problem does arise, help clarify any misunderstandings, answer questions in regards to the tasks set, and that they are an important part of the team. This also helps dispel the connotation that an office meeting with the boss is always a negative experience. Meeting people where they are at and investing in the time to say something small like “good morning” and asking about their day helps create a bridge between yourself and your team.
The difference between solitude and isolation is the difference between recognising someone taking a leisurely swim and someone struggling to stay afloat. Solitude and learning to be self-reliant are things to be encouraged in workers and leaders but when does it start becoming a problem? The answer is simple, be proactive. If you have staff or workers who are great at working by themselves, as a leader you can still steer the ship by planning daily or weekly meetings to create a space to see where people are at in relation to the work and have an open forum to share ideas and keep people dialed into the bigger picture. Organising social events such as birthday cakes, footy tipping or an office sports team may seem disruptive at first, but it helps to grow camaraderie and create opportunities for workers to form stronger bonds as a team and as a social network.
When it comes to something new in the office, recruit leaders to help grow the idea of inclusivity into the office culture. Remember “no human is an island” and building these connections will take time and some will be easier than others, but with enough practice and constant action, change for the better will occur. Why not start today? Strike up a conversation in the breakroom with the aim to include as many people into the topic as possible.