Isolation in the workplace affects the majority of company executives. This sense of isolation and feeling lost comes from the increasingly demanding degrees of flexibility required by current working conditions. How can this situation be resolved and what incentive compensation solutions can be put in place?
Staff isolation: structural reasons
“In the current context of globalisation, staff are deployed throughout the world to complete projects using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous communication systems. Teams have thus evolved and become more flexible than ever to respond more effectively to the needs of companies that now function on a 24 hour basis” Mark Mortensen, lecturer - INSEAD and Constance N. Hadley, lecturer - Boston University, hbrfrance.fr
76% of executives suffer from workplace isolation. This was reported in a Harvard Business Review France survey (December 2019 - January 2020). A second survey completed during the April 2020 lockdown also confirms this. This is due to profound changes in the work environment over the last few decades.
Hyper-flexibility in the workplace
Most of those questioned attributed this to the hyper-flexibility of working conditions. The multiplication of teams and projects has become the standard way to meet company needs and objectives. This is having an effect on group cohesion and how employees evaluate their individual work.
New management methods often require making changes to the teams attributed to a single project. And teams can find themselves working towards a single objective whilst the make-up of their teams changes constantly as the project progresses. And, with all these comings and goings, it is becoming difficult to form sound relations with colleagues.
Extreme staff flexibility
Staff find themselves only using a restricted number of their skills as a result of this constant process of team composition and re-composition. Consequently they get the impression that they are only being used to complete the missing parts of an immense mosaic without being able to make full use of their capacities. These imposed limitations incite employees to restrict their working relations right from the moment they first join the company. And this leads to a very strong feeling of isolation.
From a more personal point of view, all of this shifting from one team to another and the need to divide one’s time between a number of coexisting tasks or projects are seen as having a negative effect on well-being in the workplace.
A large number of staff end up losing their sense of place as they are deeply disturbed by the impossibility of adopting long-term views on projects, the need to divide their attention between numerous tasks and constantly adapt to new situations. Many suffer from a sense of isolation as they fail to find support from their relations with colleagues, which have now become unstable.
Isolation in the workplace: beware of false remedies
Companies may be tempted to take certain measures to try to meet employee needs and ensure their well-being in the workplace. But unfortunately not all of these are effective.
Evaluating well-being in the workplace: a genuine balancing act
Setting up a monitoring index may appear useful as a way to identify those staff-members who are suffering from isolation. Large businesses often use internal surveys to ensure employee well-being and fulfilment. This can be useful and even effective in detecting cases of isolation or other similar types of issues. But evaluating the quality of work within a team can be more delicate. But to do this, we have to rely on the judgement of managers and therefore assume the risk that they may be biased.
Creating collaborative work as a quick fix
Another trap to be avoided is the desire to generate pointlessly collective actions in the hope that this will contribute to group cohesion and guarantee team motivation. Such an approach will not work, if employees really want to work together they will already have taken initiatives to this end and will not be feeling isolated.
The incorrect use of collective objectives
Collaborative behaviour should only be encouraged where there is a real need for it and not in a superficially as a way to respond to employee discontent. So from this point of view, there is no point in trying to instigate collective objectives. Isolation in the workplace cannot be dealt with by introducing incentive compensation. Awarding a bonus to the whole of the team to reward staff for the company’s overall growth will not contribute to cohesion.
Performance related pay must have meaning. To this end, for incentive compensation to be pertinent and effective it must reward results that come from the ability to work with others. The achievement of the objectives needs to be intrinsically related to the need for collaborative work, Outside of this specific context, a “collective” objective bonus will not have a positive impact on staff who are not really part of a collective work approach.
How to deal with isolation in the workplace
“A piece of advice: get your sales staff more involved by making the best possible use of their experience to improve team performances. For example, you could invite them to participate pro-actively in training junior sales staff, showing them how to make sales or convince prospective clients more effectively” Fabien Lucron, Primeum’s Development Manager and expert in incentive compensation — maddyness.com
In the first place, you need to realise that these issues are all symptoms of a genuine managerial problem. Managers must be able to implement strategies that will allow the company to reach its objectives, respecting the schedules that it has set for itself whilst preserving the psychological balance of its staff.
Break free from isolation by feeling useful
Isolation can be dealt with through better managerial involvement. Wages should not be waved around as a remedy for an employee’s mental discomfort. We often say that a lack of group cohesion is the source for this feeling of isolation. But the real reason is that a lot of employees just feel useless.
An employee who feels useless will have no reason to get involved with the team or adapt to collaborative work methods. And they risk becoming less effective in the management of the projects and tasks that you give them as they begin to underestimate themselves. Asking them to get involved and assist their colleagues will improve their self-confidence and personal self-esteem.
Sharing skills develops relations
If you encourage an employee who feels isolated to take on the role of tutor to their colleagues, this will remind them of their usefulness. So the manager could invite them to become the guide for a new recruit or to share their skills with colleagues who are having problems completing their projects. Encouraging them to share their skills and knowledge will add meaning to team-work and make working with the group more attractive.
Placing value on individual skills by encouraging staff to invest in their colleagues will strengthen relations between colleagues. An employee who feels useful and skilled will have a greater desire to commit to the team and be more inclined to take initiatives that will improve collective work.