Feeling left out has a lot of harmful effects to our emotional and mental well-being. In fact, when we do not feel like we belong in a particular communal setting or activity, the social ties that help manage our stress levels are eroded. Over time, these small emotions associated with feeling left out balloon, and we are often left to deal with higher levels of stress, much more than we can handle.
To paint a clear picture of the magnitude of social isolation’s effects, a 2018 study by health insurance firm Cigna showed that half of 20,000 Americans surveyed admitted feeling lonely, with nearly half or 40 percent saying that they feel like their social relationships are not meaningful. The report included research that shows isolation is as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, having an alcohol abuse problem, or twice as much harm as obesity.
It is valid to acknowledge that self-isolation and loneliness are not confined to the office. It can creep up on us outside the work setting, at home, or during our social activities and interactions. Loneliness and not feeling a sense of belonging have long since existed and has plagued us during various stages of our lives, not just at work. However, it is equally sound to consider that there are more people reporting loneliness not because they are getting lonelier, but because they are given more opportunity now to share their feelings. These reported figures may not even include those who are not as comfortable and open to share their struggles.
According to Grant Thornton’s 2022 Women in Business (WIB) Report, 95 percent of mid-market businesses surveyed are now more adept at inculcating a culture of diversity and inclusion. This is an increase from 92 percent recorded in the 2021 WIB Report, suggesting that more organizations today are eyeing to implement more initiatives geared towards promoting employee engagement. In the Philippines, the Women in Business report shows that 39 percent of respondents agreed that these new work practices have also benefited women employees and urged them to greatly advance their careers and take on more leadership roles.
While it is comforting to know that more companies today see the good side of prioritizing gender equality and the well-being of employees, there is much to be done when it comes to alleviating feelings of social isolation in the workplace. On top of its effects to health, the Center for Workplace Mental Health emphasized in one article that these emotions of not having meaningful relationships can affect work productivity, lead to disinterest in fulfilling work duties, and in the extreme, lead to employee resignation.
So, what can businesses do to foster a culture of belongingness at work?
Ensure no one feels like an “outsider”
In one article, research and consulting firm Gartner cited that “outsiderness” can make people cave in and feel discouraged to show their strengths and potential. Feeling left out can lead to one feeling demotivated, and that it “undermines their focus and performance”.
As much as possible and as needed, it will be helpful to engage all employees in the implementation of policies particularly those that have a direct effect on their duties. Improving communication ties are also still key in making sure that all employees are on board with each policy being or are currently adopted by the company. Ultimately, they are the ones who will be benefited by such programs; hence, their insights should always be considered.
Implement diversity and inclusion training
A Harvard Business Review article highlighted that training courses focused on addressing gender bias at work were able to have a positive effect on those who were described as least supportive of their female colleagues.
These trainings can be leveraged to largely improve not just company programs on creating a gender equal company culture; they can also be used to engage all employees and address other issues such as how to encourage a more inclusive environment that will be supportive for all. These courses, coupled with regular mentoring sessions, can do a lot to help companies in their crusade to make all staff feel needed and that they belong.
Reward and provide incentives
How do you get everyone to cooperate in your inclusion and engagement strategies? The trick lies in answering this question – what is in it for them aside from the positive outcomes of such initiatives? It is best to outline and inform employees that they will be receiving rewards and incentives for being open and cooperative. Make each staff member realize the importance to the company of them communicating their thoughts on whether they feel a sense of belonging at work. Inform them that their candidness will help management draft new programs aimed at solving this issue.
In the end, while ensuring that everyone feels appreciated, and that he or she truly belongs at the workplace, is management’s responsibility, this is more easily done when employees are properly advised and well-informed of management plans aimed at reducing feelings of loneliness or self-isolation. All these should stem from a common goal: no one gets, or should feel, left behind.
As published in The Manila Times, dated 08 June 2022