How to Deal with Workplace Isolation
Coping With the Silent Bully
By Joe Issid
Whether you are running your own solo business, stuck in a corner of a busy office or working remotely from home, feeling isolated at work can be a very real issue for some. Unfortunately, some forms of workplace isolation are a result of deliberate exclusion which can lead to feelings of ostracism and alienation. And, for many, being ignored can often feel far worse than being overtly bullied. To wit, feeling isolated at work can mean many different things to different people. For me, I experienced feelings of professional isolation while running a business out of my home office. In that regard, I considered myself quite fortunate that I never felt lonely, per se. Having said that, there were days when I certainly did grow tired of running the business alone. So, at times, I felt professionally isolated as I never had the luxury of having anyone else with an equal investment to assist in the highs and lows of managing the business. Over time, however, I learned how to properly identify these feelings and adopted some positive behaviors to help relieve the impact of isolation. Here are some of the tricks I learned along the way.
Is it permanent?
There is no doubt that having a lack of support at work can be very challenging. But what is certain is that we all react to this situation in different ways. Before trying to find a resolution to your issue, you need to try to get to the root of your discomfort first. Try to look at your situation objectively and figure out if the job itself is naturally isolating or if your approach to the job could be partially responsible. Without sounding defeatist, it is entirely possible that some jobs are simply not suited for specific personality types. No matter the case, you need to determine whether or not this situation is permanent. If so, you need to find a solution that is permanent – which may involve looking for a new job.
Small business owners are some of the hardest working yet inefficient workers I know. Do not take this the wrong way, please. With no additional resources to lend a hand, they are forced to do it all, often leading to long hours, high stress and increased feelings of seclusion. And, as a business owner, I certainly succumbed to all of these conditions. But, over time, I found several mechanisms that provided relief, perhaps none more helpful than subscribing to a shared work space. These so-called co-working spaces provide shared facilities to encourage increased social and collaborative working environments for those that would otherwise work in isolation. Over the last few years, co-working spaces have become increasingly popular across Canada so it shouldn’t be hard to find one near you.
Be more social
Workplace isolation can be greatly exacerbated by feeling isolated in your personal life. If you work remotely and do not have frequent touch points with your colleagues or your manager, you will certainly begin to feel a gulf grow. As someone who has relocated to faraway countries for work, it can be extremely difficult to thrive at work if you are feeling isolated socially. As such, I found that my professional life suffered as a result of having a weak social support structure. However, once I started making friends and felt part of the team, I was able to grow more comfortable and confident around my co-workers, which had an undeniably positive impact on my job.
Ask for help
This can seem painfully obvious but it is truly alarming how infrequently people ask for help at work. Some people may feel insecure about reaching out for help as it may come across as weakness or that they are having trouble coping with the workload. Ironically, in some cases, you can be your own worst enemy when these situations occur. As with most things in life, problems aren’t likely to magically resolve themselves so do yourself a favor and raise the alarm if you feel yourself drifting further away from the rest of the team.
Create a schedule
This is easily the piece of advice that is most often ignored. If you work alone, it is very easy to become immersed in work, which can exacerbate any feelings of isolation. Personally, establishing a rigid schedule was possibly the best thing that I did for myself. By setting up a fixed schedule, I was able to set (and achieve) daily goals for my work and made it a point to set aside time for exercise and socializing.