Individuals can feel isolated when there is conflict at work. This was something that had been happening for years before the pandemic. However, mediators at work have observed an increase in isolation over the past two years. This is happening alongside other emerging societal trends. Dr. Vivek Muthy, the 19 th US Surgeon general, stated that isolation and social disconnection are the biggest public health crises we face. This should be considered a workplace health problem because hybrid work can increase isolation and social disconnection. What can employees do to reduce isolation?
Mental health and isolation
Although remote and hybrid working has many advantages, mediation parties are reporting that they feel more disconnected from their work and less secure. These individuals are those who have been in conflict with their coworkers. This must also be considered in the context the pandemic. Social contact was very limited at work and in private. Many employees speak out about the negative effects of isolation and conflict on their mental health.
Leaders must identify and support those whose mental health is in decline. Mental Health Awareness Week this year, which focused on loneliness, is a national initiative that raises awareness and shares helpful resources. Managers can often spot signs of loneliness in employees, including changes in communication or behavior, and encourage them to seek help.
Isolation and its effects on relationships
Staff members who feel isolated by conflict or spend less time together face-to-face can make it more difficult for them to establish trust and relationships with their colleagues. Misunderstandings of comments and actions (or inactions) are more common. A number of the parties in recent mediations cited an overreliance on email as a reason for miscommunication and misinterpretations.
Managers play a crucial role. Managers can support their team by recognizing the most vulnerable. A manager who is proficient in conflict communication can help his team to discuss their issues and communicate better. This will reduce conflict and foster stronger relationships.
The impact on productivity
Apart from the possible effects isolation can have on people’s mental health and relationships there is also the organizational effect of lower productivity.
Many isolated workers feel the need for HR, unions and employee relations staff to be involved in their work, whether formally or through formal processes like grievances. In workplace mediations, parties have stated that they sent multiple emails per day about the conflict and printed emails as evidence. This was in addition to taking up a lot of their time.
Leaders can have a significant impact on the outcome of conflicts by taking the right actions. Leaders who encourage early resolution of conflict can help staff who feel isolated by unresolved conflicts. Next, staff must be trained to deal with difficult issues directly before they escalate or are made to go through formal grievance procedures.
Mediators recognize the end of conflict when problems have reached a point and relationships are in disarray. Parties may feel lonely and isolated by this stage. This can happen for many months, if it is not years. It is easier to manage conflict and isolation when they first appear. It is important that organizations focus on preventing isolation and conflict from affecting mental health, teamwork, and engagement.