We all spend a large amount of our week at work and yet many people do not feel like they belong at their workplace.
This is not a case of being in the wrong profession or having doubts over their skillset, this is a feeling of not belonging through not being included, a sense that the workplace offers paid employment but that is all. It does nothing to make them feel good.
This raises two questions.
Does this lack of fulfilment and feeling of isolation at work matter and, if so, what can be done about it?
In this post we will look at why it definitely matters and what you as an employer can do to help (and why it is worth your effort too).
The sense of isolation is so great that it is becoming an increasing problem in the workplace. Recent research by the Harvard Business Review found that 40% of employees feel isolated at work. Work is also not where people have a sense of belonging – 62% answering that the home is where they feel the greatest sense of belonging, just 34% mentioning the workplace.
Clearly this affects the individuals, the lack of belonging and sense of isolation is not conducive to good mental health. If 40 hours a week are spent in the work place, that could be 40 hours where a person feels isolated and more still worrying about it at home.
It also matters greatly for productivity. An employee who feels engaged and part of a team is 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their full potential – that figure coming from the Centre for Talent Innovation.
Any employee who has a lack of enthusiasm for their workplace is also likely to look to leave – this is a true double whammy for employers as staff do not work to their full potential and then they leave.
Often it is not just one or two employees either, it tends to be systemic in workplaces. Often, either everyone – or the vast majority at least – feel as if they are part of the team, or very few do. It comes down to the culture that permeates through the organisation.
The key for employers is to demonstrate that they care about employees and there are numerous ways they can go about this.
Simply opening up more avenues for dialogue can help. This is not big, department or business wide get togethers (although they can have a place), instead it is the chance for one-to-one chats in a format that suits the individual employee.
Some employees might prefer face to face chats, others to converse digitally, others might recoil from the idea of extra chats with a manager. It is important to be receptive and adaptive.
Starting off small is also advised. A sudden email going round the office saying everyone will be getting a one-to-one chat is unlikely to bolster a sense of being in a team. Instead, starting off small by asking ‘how are things going’ or if there is anything you can do to help can open up avenues for further conversations in future.
This advice might seem obvious, but it is these sorts of small conversations and pleasantries that can get lost in the process of having deadlines to hit.
As an employer it is also important to really listen, the chats are not there for a corporate message to be imparted, they are there as a chance to talk and for the employee to raise any issues or to talk through how more could be done to bolster a sense of being part of a team. It is likely to take time for people to truly open up, maybe a few chats down the line as a sense of trust builds and feeling that they can be honest in their appraisals.
Making people feel like they belong relies on everyone being seen as individuals – bosses not being seen as ‘management’ but as individuals, every employee having a sense that they are doing an important role.
The employer can also do things that shows they are looking out for their employees. This can be through days out and activities that are purely for fun rather than to impart a message, though an office night out will never be everyone’s perfect night.
Looking out for employees can also be helping to make their life that bit easier.
Everyone has numerous things they need to sort out – childcare, getting to and from work, health insurance, sorting out a new mobile phone, leasing a car, gym membership. Having assistance on hand for employees is another option, a confidential line to call that is always available, where trained advisors can help with any issue, whether it is going through a divorce, health problem or more positive life event such as marriage or impending new birth.
There are many things an employer can do simply by arranging benefits, clubs and services for employees that make them valued and also create a sense of being in a team – if employees are going to use a gym, how much better is it if they save money and use a gym where colleagues hang out too?
Making employees feel part of the team, valued, included and so boosting their productivity is not done through one grand gesture, it is achieved through a number of small steps.