Isolated at Work
Down and Out at Work
I recently met two young, professional women, who are gainfully employed, successful and, for the most part, enjoying their work…. except for the isolation they feel each and every day. Workplace isolation is more common than we think and not a trivial complaint. It has been attributed to lack of productivity, depression and other health issues, as well as employee turnover.
Just a Few Good Women…or Men
The causes of isolation are varied but the remedies are similar. We all need just a few good women…or men for support. The need for a buddy or two at work has been well documented but finding and keeping that buddy isn’t always easy.
A few years ago. when I returned to visit a former workplace, I was stunned by a sobbing former colleague with whom I had a close relationship. She revealed how isolated she felt since I had left. Similarly, I was shocked by how much I missed the close relationships I had with colleagues after I moved. Many of us spend more time with our coworkers and colleagues than we do with family members and anyone else in our lives.
Lack of Workplace Diversity
If you’re a woman and primarily work with men; If you’re a minority in a predominately majority culture; or if a generation or two separates you from most of your coworkers, finding support can be challenging.
Often the black sheep in organizations find each other. I’m reminded of a young, religious woman, who was offended by the rough language and racy conversation of her peers during staff meetings. She found support in another staff member who was a generation older and could understand her feelings of isolation. Support can come in unlikely places and from unlikely people.
Working from home is both a blessing and a curse. Not having to fight traffic is a huge benefit of telecommunicating; it reduces stress and saves boatloads of time, in addition to transportation costs. It can also be isolating and lonely. For those of us who get energy by being around others, it’s downright depressing.
Whether you’re a sole proprietor or have a staff depending on you, it’s lonely at the top. Making all the decisions (good and bad) and not having the luxury of bitching about work to coworkers is a definite downside of being chief cook and bottlewasher.
The common denominator in workplace isolation is the lack of kindred spirits. Occasionally an angel will join your team or company but, in the meantime, you may need to create a support system outside of work (assuming you have any time to spare outside of work). Exercise classes satisfy several needs: stress reduction, physical activity and connecting with others. It can take a while to develop relationships at the gym, at yoga, Zumba or dance classes (especially if you’re an introvert) but consistent attendance often helps with the shyness we feel in these environments. Joining Meetups or other special interest groups is another way to build connections.
I love support groups. Our rugged individualistic culture doesn’t promote them as much as I think is needed, but some are out there. I believe we’re hard-wired to work cooperatively and to be helpful to others. It just feels good. Ask around, peruse social media and you’ll find groups of like-minded people who can help you feel less alone. My guess is that, in the process of feeling less isolated, you can help others with whom you connect.