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Isolation at Work is Killing Your Happiness (+ How to Beat It in 2024)

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Lawrence Haywood 21 December, 2023 8 min read

Keep on reading to uncover the secret to combat isolation at work.

Ever walk into the office on a Monday and feel like crawling right back under the covers? Do most days seem to drag on while you count down the minutes until pack-up time? If so, you’re not alone – and it may not just be a case of the Mondays. For many of us, there’s a workplace killer stealthily sucking the joy from our jobs. Its name? Isolation.

Whether you’re remote or sit among crowds of coworkers, isolation creeps in silently to drain our motivation, burden our wellbeing and leave us feeling invisible. 

In this post, we’ll shine a light on the ways isolation takes hold. We’ll also explore simple solutions your company can adopt to prevent this happiness-zapper and foster a more engaged workforce.

Table of Contents

What is Workplace Isolation and How to Identify Isolation at Work

Ever feel like dreading every day at work? Or find it hard to connect with colleagues from different generations? If so, you may be experiencing a lonely problem plaguing workplaces worldwide – isolation.

You probably don’t need the experts to tell you how loneliness can lead to a lack of motivation and productivity at work, but they’ve done it anyway. According to the American Psychiatric Association, loneliness can ‘limit individual and team performance, reduce creativity and impair reasoning and decision making‘.

But it’s not just remote jobs or one-person tasks making us feel this way. Factors like scattered teams, aged coworkers we can’t relate to, and confusing onboarding for newbies all foster the weeds of isolation too. Most people who feel this way slip under the radar, hiding signs of avoiding coworkers and disengaging from discussions.

If you haven’t known the signs of a secluded coworker yet, here’s a checklist to identify isolation at work:

  • Avoid social interactions and breaks with others. Staying at their desk during lunch or refusing invites to team activities.
  • Withdrawn or less talkative in meetings and group discussions. Not contributing or participating as much as they used to.
  • Sit alone or on the fringes of common work areas. Not mingling or collaborating with coworkers nearby.
  • Express feelings of being left out of the loop. Unaware of social events, office jokes/memes, or team accomplishments.
  • Focus solely on individual tasks without engaging with or helping others.
  • Seem less motivated, engaged or energized about their work compared to before.
  • Increased absenteeism or take longer breaks away from their desk alone.
  • Changes in mood, become more irritable, unhappy or disconnected from colleagues.
  • Remote workers who rarely turn on their camera during virtual meetings or collaborate digitally.
  • Newer or younger employees who haven’t been fully integrated into workplace social circles or mentorship opportunities.

If you never regularly engaged in at least one of these activities in the office, chances are you’re one of the 72% of global workers who report feeling lonely on a monthly basis, both outside and within the office.

Oftentimes in the office we find the conversation completely passing us by. We sit at our desks and listen to coworkers’ laughter swirl around us, but never muster up the confidence to join in.

It can end up weighing on us the whole day and draining us of any motivation to work or seek interaction elsewhere.

So before you start clamouring to get back to your workplace, think about whether or not you were truly socially fulfilled there. If so, you can clock in tomorrow, but if not, you might be better at home.

A Small Survey Could Help

This regular pulse check template lets you gauge and improve each member’s wellness in the workplace. While you’re here, also check out AhaSlides template library to make team engagement 100 times better!

AhaSlides survey rating scale to check team member isolation at work

Will We be Lonely in the Future?

Loneliness was declared an epidemic in America a few years before COVID even began isolating us from others. But after living through a pandemic, are we more or less prepared for a remote future than before?

While the future of work is most assuredly volatile, loneliness will get worse before it gets better.

With more and more of us going remote/hybrid, work practices and technology will have a long way to go to recreate the true atmosphere of a real office (if you’re thinking holograms and virtual reality, you might be onto something).

Facebook’s vision for virtual reality workspaces. Image courtesy of Designboom.

Sure, these technologies may help quell the feeling of loneliness when working remotely, but they’re currently still confined to the realms of sci-fi. For now, a growing number of us will have to battle loneliness as its existence as the number 1 drawback to working from home.

Along with that, it may not help that the youngsters entering the workforce today are inherently more lonely than their older colleagues. One study found that 33% of people under 25 feel lonely, while the same could be said of only 11% of people over 65, the group we typically assume are the loneliest.

The loneliest generation are starting jobs at companies that do little to combat loneliness, and are more than twice as likely to quit because of it.

Don’t be surprised to see that epidemic upgrade to a pandemic in the near future.

How to Tackle Isolation at Work

Realising the problem is always the first step.

While companies are still getting to grips with isolation at work, there are things you can do to fight back.

Most of it starts with simply talking. Striking up conversations yourself, rather than waiting for them to come to you, is the best way to feel included when faced with the barrier of a screen.

Being active in making plans with the ones you love will also really help to banish some of the negativity that hangs around after a lonely working day.

You can also encourage your boss and HR department to focus a little more on team building, check-ins, surveys and simply remembering that there are members of staff that are working by themselves all day, every day.

Maybe you could map your own happiness, before and after these changes are made. It still may not be as good as making out, gardening or museums, but I’m sure you’ll feel a whole lot better.

💡 Need more cures for the Monday blues? Keep the motivation up with these work quotes!

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do you deal with isolation at work?

1. Talk to your manager. Be open about feeling disconnected from coworkers and brainstorm solutions together. A supportive manager can help integrate you more.
2. Initiate social interactions. Invite coworkers to lunch, collaborate on projects, start up casual chats by the water cooler. Small talk builds rapport.
3. Join workplace groups. Find coworkers with shared interests by checking bulletin boards for extracurricular clubs/committees.
4. Utilize communication tools. Chat more through messaging to stay plugged in if working remotely or alone.
5. Schedule catch-ups. Book brief check-ins with colleagues you want to connect with more regularly.
6. Attend company social events. Make an effort to go to after-work drinks, game nights etc to network outside work hours.
7. Organize your own event. Host a team breakfast, invite coworkers for a virtual coffee break.
8. Utilize strengths. Find ways to contribute uniquely so others recognize your value and involve you.
9. Address conflicts directly. Nip negative relationships in the bud through compassionate communication.
10. Take breaks together. Accompany colleagues when stepping away from desks for refreshments.

What are the effects of isolation in the workplace?

Employees who feel isolated in the workplace are less engaged and motivated, which leads to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism and poor mental health. They are more likely to leave the company and perceive negatively about the company’s image.