The topic of workplace loneliness has received renewed interest in light of the new normal. More organisations are beginning to explore the long-term feasibility of remote and work-from-home positions, which may cause additional strain to workplace relations.
Humans are, by nature, social creatures that thrive in groups. Hence, people who feel lonely at work are unlikely to function at their optimal level. According to research by health services company Cigna, “lonely workers are twice as likely to quit their jobs than their non-lonely peers.”
Healthy workplace culture can reduce the risks of loneliness so that employees may stay focused and engaged. So how can organisational leaders develop and implement flexible communication methods to ensure that teams and co-workers stay united despite the distance?
Involve Employees in Decision-making
Employees appreciate being a part of the workplace’s decision-making process – with leaders giving them a chance to voice their opinions towards improving a situation. The concept is known as participative leadership, which facilitates the free flow of ideas, thoughts, and discussions, which curbs loneliness among workers.
Employers need to consider making the employee an active participant in the conversation through the responsive leadership style. Workplace discussions may involve anything from choosing office wallpaper designs to shaping the next marketing campaign’s direction.
Retail trendspotter and bestselling author Joel Goldstein once shared, “Participative leaders don’t talk just to hear the sound of their own voice. When conducting meetings, act more as a facilitator than a host of the meeting and let your employees open up and do the talking.”
Giving employees the chance to contribute provides them with greater responsibility for their careers and an improved sense of purpose at work. Leaders may also consider a voting process where employees may brainstorm and choose from various options in decision-making.
One of the commonly overlooked approaches to improved decision-making involves the implementation of flexi-hours. Employees can decide the best way to invest their time in achieving their tasks and objectives through flexible work hours. Employee autonomy is a nod to the freedom of working out a solution according to preferred methods.
Promote the Power of Conversation
Employees are unlikely to feel lonely in a workplace culture that promotes the power of conversation. Co-workers should be comfortable speaking their minds and sharing their opinions without fear of being ostracised, faulted, or blacklisted by management.
Effective communication at work brings multiple benefits, such as improved morale, better teamwork, and enhanced productivity. A culture of conversation leaves nothing to guesswork, which avoids miscommunications and the risks of conflict brewing among co-workers.
Leaders and employees with strong communication skills can express their ideas clearly and confidently to rally teams and the organisation towards a goal. Additionally, studies show that conversation nurtures intellectual curiosity. Through meaningful dialogue, individuals may have their default views challenged, promoting a habit of learning and improvement.
Team-building exercises carry many benefits for organisations, such as breaking the monotony at work. Employees can bond and interact in newfound ways during team-building activities, stimulating their creative energies, and improving productivity. Team-building programs like LEGO Serious Play call for the involvement of every team member to ensure that no one is left behind, even the typically quiet ones.
Aside from easing loneliness woes, team-building can help employees and managers reduce tension at the workplace by freely expressing themselves. Through regular team-building sessions, employees can dissolve the trust barriers between themselves and managers to strategically and rationally engage in collaborative problem-solving.
Mentorship and Buddy Systems
Mentors and buddies at work provide employees with a lifeline or sense of security at the workplace. Such arrangements can make a significant difference in the experience of newly onboarded staff who are still unsure and unfamiliar with the workplace culture.
The lack of a mentor or similar support places employees at a disadvantage. While workers may eventually figure things out on their own accord, experienced coworkers/mentors can help enhance the learning journey with their skills and knowledge.
It is essential to note that mentoring is not a one-way process, and mentors should clarify learning objectives from the start. An effective mentor facilitates thoughtful discussions with mentees while encouraging ongoing feedback to improve communications.
Additionally, mentors should not desire accreditation or recognition from the relationship, but rather, focus on helping mentees reach the powerful state of self-realisation and independence.
However, it is vital to pair employees with suitable and competent buddies to benefit both parties. When appropriately chosen, organisations can reduce the time and effort spent on training new hires.
Loneliness Vs. Isolation
It is common to mistakenly use the terms “loneliness” and “isolation” interchangeably during offsite arrangements. However, leaders need to understand the difference between the terms to provide the best outcome for their employees.
Isolation is a structural condition, whereby employees lack the opportunity to communicate in their usual capacity due to technical constraints.
Work-from-home and remote deployments cause a physical separation leading to disrupted communications. While isolation is a challenge, leaders can quickly remedy the situation by establishing a reliable remote communication system and routine (i.e., daily check-ins and video conferences).
Loneliness, comparatively, is a more complex workplace issue that involves the level of trust, involvement, and interaction among workers. Lonely workers may find themselves prone to burnout due to the lack of immediate support and assistance.
While affected workers may continue to ignore the symptoms of loneliness for months without quitting, they will remain disengaged and uncommitted in their jobs.
Leaders and managers need to identify the “lonely workers” who work in silos within their organisation to ease them into the workplace culture.
According to Mind Share Partners, 86% of employees value the importance of a company culture that supports mental health. Workplace loneliness is a form of emotional distress that can hold individuals back from their true potential.
By fostering healthy relationships among coworkers, organisations can reach new heights in group dynamics to advance towards a brighter future.
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