According to SHRM Research, about 28% of workers felt lonely/isolated while at work after a colleague departed. What is one strategy for employers to eliminate employee workplace isolation?
To help HR leaders tackle office place isolation, we asked workplace coaches and HR managers this question for their best insights. From practicing intentional gratitude to reestablishing a sense of structure, here are 13 strategies that can help you eliminate employee isolation in the workspace regardless of their position and type of workspace.
Here are the 13 strategies to help eliminate workplace isolation:
- Practice Intentional Gratitude
- Embrace the Power of External Communities
- Reframe "Cameras On"
- Conduct Thrid-Party Pulse Surveys
- Create Environments that Engender Friendships
- Build an Atmosphere of Trust and Openness
- Encourage Employee Connection Through Zoom
- Engage in “Getting to Know You” Icebreakers
- Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
- A Commitment to Inclusion
- Don’t Let Feelings Go Unspoken
- Reestablish a Sense of Structure
Practice Intentional Gratitude
Research shows employees rarely express or receive gratitude in the workplace, even if they regularly practice it in their personal lives. The business case for gratitude as an active part of the workday is growing, which makes it an attractive win-win opportunity for healing some of the isolation people feel, especially after a colleague leaves. This can be as simple as encouraging employees to spend just 2-3 minutes jotting down 2-3 small positive work-related experiences, like having a great conversation with a vendor or hearing about a colleague's new puppy, or creating a communication channel on Teams or Slack for people to post "kudos," or encouraging them to thank coworkers, vendors, or even clients on LinkedIn. Building gratitude into the workday rebuilds the connection we all need to perform at our best.
Sarah Ratekin, Happiness Is Courage
Embrace the Power of External Communities
As a company, you can encourage employees to join external communities. Assisting them to find groups where they can learn and develop, gives them an additional place of belonging.
There are a variety of ways to do this, from encouraging them to join networking or sector groups locally or online, partnering with other companies to socialize and create think-tanks, and representing the company in different environments. Asking them to give feedback in a way they choose to the company gives them a feeling of meaning and connections that help them to feel part of something bigger and part of an inclusive culture where they feel empowered to connect both internally and externally.
Lee Chambers, Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing
Reframe "Cameras On"
Reduce employee isolation by requiring them to have their cameras on for virtual meetings. To do that, reframe virtual meetings from "an alternative to in-person meetings" to "a window into each other's real lives." Once an employee is comfortable virtually, they find they can become even more connected to their colleagues. We may be miles apart, but we are now closer to our colleagues' personal lives–their real lives filled with pets, children, collections, decorating styles, and even the clothes they feel most comfortable wearing. By allowing employees to close the window, you are allowing them to emotionally and physically isolate.
Tammy Cohen, InfoMart
Conduct Thrid-Party Pulse Surveys
The impact of employee workplace isolation often derives from the root of a larger issue at the organizational level: lack of inclusive hiring. Understanding that the effects on an individual’s performance can be altered greatly based on the departure of one lone colleague should serve as a red flag that the company’s hiring practices may need to be revisited.
Consider conducting frequent, third-party initiated pulse surveys on how safe and inclusive employees feel in their daily work environment. This can provide current, relevant data on how your employees feel. If organizations focus on hiring employees and leaders who encourage and foster inclusion and transparent communication, this should alleviate or even eliminate the potential for employee workplace isolation, as the goal would be for no employee to solely feel connected to only one other individual at an organization.
Matthew Higgins, MASA Global
Create Environments that Engender Friendships
Gallup knows that having close friendships at work drives employee engagement and trust. It's why "I have a best friend at work" is one of the 12 questions they ask measuring engagement. Leaders can create and support team interactions that foster healthy friendships at work. Leaders can encourage (and create) workplace friendships by role modeling those relationships themselves. Additionally, leaders can ensure the physical workspace allows for informal relationship building. Further, leaders can encourage employees to spend time together that doesn't focus on the work itself by setting up team outings, enabling informal interaction time (e.g., "coffee breaks"), and opening up team meetings with a personal check-in.
Lisa Barrington, Barrington Coaching
Build an Atmosphere of Trust and Openness
One strategy for employers to eliminate employee workplace isolation is to foster an atmosphere of trust and openness. It is important for an employee to be able to bring their true authentic selves to work through openness in the culture. Being able to contribute, be heard, and be informed of what is going on is critical to creating such an environment. Leaders must encourage employee vulnerability and forge opportunities for employees to build trust, connect and cultivate relationships both within their team and across other teams. A few suggested ways to make these connections are through icebreakers, “getting to know you” on meeting agendas, happy hours or tea/coffee hours, cross-functional team projects and workspaces, and employee resource groups. It is important that employees have the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone and share something about themselves with others in order to build trust through personal connections and relationship building.
Natasha Smiley, Molson Coors Beverage Company
Encourage Employee Connection Through Zoom
If employees feel isolated after a particular employee left, due to feelings of a lost friendship, for example, managers could recognize the employee's need for being cheered up and provide some company. The manager could arrange a social event or send a card, just as we might do if someone's best friend moved or a parent passed away. One way we keep our own employees from feeling isolated is to stay in a Zoom room all day. Employees come and go for their meetings, but we're all in there all day getting our work done. This facilitates the random office talk that keeps relationships strong, and we also often have periods of silence where we're just doing our work. Knowing a coworker is a google tab away goes a long way.
Catherine Mattice, Civility Partners
Imagine it’s like TEDx. Monthly, HR will Select 5 to 10 employees from different departments who will share their mistakes and learning with their colleagues. Through this event, all colleagues' appreciation will increase their belongingness towards the Organization and colleagues.
Ismail Hossain, BJIT Group
Engage in “Getting to Know You” Icebreakers
We encourage the team to meet monthly, and we create engaging ice breakers so that they have an opportunity to get to know each other outside of work. It could be something as simple as a virtual or in-person game to find individuals who have traveled to x amount of countries, maybe someone who has eaten a very exotic meal or food, or someone that has participated in a game show, etc. This allows people to see each other in a different light and also allows them to relate to those that are similar and promotes a possible "new" work friendship.
Melissa Bostic, Phase Change Energy Solutions
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
Don’t let rumors spread, be honest and transparent with employees using verbal, written, and listening communication skills. Be genuine in congratulating the leaving employee on their new move, don’t minimize it. Words and body language should match. Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk. Reassure remaining staff that their jobs are safe. Share the personal contact information of the person leaving if he/she/they say it is ok to do so.
Christine Dykeman, Helping Clients To See the Light
A Commitment to Inclusion
One effective way to eliminate employee workplace isolation is to encourage and support participation in Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). ERGs are voluntary, employee-led organizations connected by common interests, bonds, and similar backgrounds. The groups usually support an organization’s vision, mission, and goals and assist in building its culture. An organization’s foundation should be centered on the mission of inclusivity. ERGs are a great resource and a nice way for employees to feel connected to one another and to feel a sense of community.
Tony Baylis, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Reestablish a Sense of Structure
One workplace dynamic that many people struggle with is change; a lot of us appreciate a predictable routine. The departure of a trusted colleague can, without a doubt, impact our routines, workloads, and even workplace culture. However, there may also be an opportunity to improve.
Meeting with the workgroup to better understand what are the short and long-term impacts of the departure. Seek input; if appropriate, reassign or reframe activities. Establishing a new normal with regular check-ins could help take the emotional edge off the departure.
Hector Alvarez, Alvarez Associates LLC
Don’t Let Feelings Go Unspoken
Unspoken but real isolation feelings after the exit of a colleague can impact workplace wellness. Obsessive thoughts about the event, feelings of disconnection, lack of motivation, or behaviors exhibiting social isolation should not be ignored. Like Survivor’s Guilt, health risks, including depression and realized grief, could impact the immune system, increase inflammation, and aggravate existing health problems or cause new ones.
Proactive managers can act by addressing these feelings and not leaving them unspoken.
- Accept staff feelings: provide support with empathy and without judgment
- Be empathetic: dwell on the “good time” events with the individual and positive aspects of the departed colleague openly and candidly
For most, focusing on immediate business deliverables or re-focusing on the team mission is what is needed to come to the place where the loss of the colleague is accepted, and all remaining team members are able to move on.
Kent Thomas, Director, Workplace Strategy