Feeling isolated at work can be a difficult situation and with many of us working from home at the moment, it’s likely we’re all feeling a little out of the loop. Unfortunately, some forms of workplace isolation are a result of deliberate exclusion which can lead to people feeling left out and ostracised.
A poll by the CIPD suggests that almost two thirds of employees feel that bullying is socially-driven and over 91% believe that their organisation is failing to deal with the consequences. Being excluded on purpose doesn’t just impact people’s mental wellbeing, it negatively affects morale, productivity and business performance too.
So what should you do if you’re feeling excluded when working from home?
“It’s likely that, at some point over the last few months, most of us will have felt anxious about the effects of the pandemic,” says Kirsty Lilley, mental health specialist at wellbeing charity CABA.
“In some cases, these feelings can be further exacerbated by having no choice but to work remotely. We may suddenly have found ourselves without our regular support network around us or feeling pressure to do extensive amounts of additional work in order to prove that we are remaining productive.”
If the office is usually very social, but you're not included, a sense of alienation can impact your happiness and performance. Firstly, it can help to see if you can find any allies who can help involve you in activities, even if they are all on Zoom at the moment.
If you feel confident enough, organising a social event - such as an informal video call - can help too. “It’s important to maintain these new established lines of virtual communication for work and say yes to as many social calls as you’re comfortable with,” Lilley says.
“For example, if you know your company is more relaxed on a Friday, or finishes earlier one day to socialise, make sure you’re involved. If this is too time-intensive, you can always try to ask your colleagues for regular updates so you don’t miss any important details.”
It might feel uncomfortable at first, but it’s more important than ever to push yourself into feeling part of the team. “Hopefully, it will become second nature for your colleagues to ensure you’re included in office conversations and spontaneous calls, but until then, don’t be afraid to increase your presence,” Lilley adds.
However, try to be aware of overcompensating. Just because you aren’t physically in the office, that doesn’t mean you need to work twice as hard or twice as long to show your commitment.
“Doing this you can run the risk of burnout, for fear of being forgotten or side stepped,” Lilley says. “Use the video platforms to assert your presence, and let your work speak for itself.”
Employers may not be immediately aware that a colleague is feeling alienated. With many office workers now toiling away at home, however, it’s even more likely that people are feeling isolated or lonely. According to research by TotalJobs, almost half (46%) of UK workers have experienced loneliness during lockdown. Therefore, it’s important for managers to pay attention to visible signs of stress or poor mental health.
Bullying in the form of social exclusion can be easily covered up because it’s not easy to prove. When confronted about not including someone in an event, meeting or email chain, they may claim they “forgot” or that the individual must have missed the memo. If this is the case, managers may need to keep a close eye on workplace interactions, areas of possible conflict and working relationships between members of staff.
“We need managers to recognise these risks and find innovative ways of creating safe spaces in which to deal with them,” Lilley says. “People can be resistant to acknowledging when they’re suffering. It’s for this reason that it’s so important managers create a safe environment for them to do so.
“For those who remain hesitant to open up though, there are some behavioural signs that we can watch out for, and which might suggest that a team member is struggling.”
Managers should keep an eye out for workers who seem withdrawn or are avoiding engaging with the team. Similarly, watch for those who become quickly frustrated or easily overwhelmed.
There are also physical signs that we can watch out for, such as headaches, backaches or difficulty sleeping,” Lilley says. “People are often much more willing to speak about physical symptoms than feelings of stress or anxiety, but they often come hand-in-hand.”
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