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Are Your Employees Isolated, Unable to Cope and Unchallenged?

February 13, 2015 by Dr. Jon Warner in Performance Management

Are Your Employees Isolated, Unable to Cope and Unchallenged?

Lamentably, if not surprisingly, a widespread survey of over 20,000 people in US nursing homes at the end of last year suggested that loneliness, helplessness, and boredom are the constant companions of the vast majority of nursing home residents. But a similar survey of over 5,000 employees in organizations of various sizes and types last year (and covering people in a range from 21 to 65) much more surprisingly suggested that as many as half of these people also felt isolated, unable to cope and unchallenged (not so dissimilar to the lonely, bored and helpless finding in the senior homes). It seems therefore that feelings of isolation, being unable to cope or deal with change and having insufficient challenge in people’s working lives may be much more endemic than we care to admit and perhaps we need to look a little more deeply at what we can do to turn things around, especially when we are likely to have more options available within an organizational setting. 

Before we look at the possible “antidotes” to these three employee feelings or conditions from the survey, let’s look at why they exist and how they tend to play out in the workplace.

Feeling isolated

Although there are some large and growing centers for collective employment (such as call centers for example) the trend in recent years is for smaller work teams and individualized work which people can perform on their own. In many cases individuals are therefore often left to work entirely on their own at a work-desk or in a car or even at home and they therefore do not necessarily have much face-to-face contact to enjoy. Even in a small team it may also be the case that one or two people do not feel part of things and therefore feel isolated.

Feeling unable to cope

Many surveys tell us that people feel more and more that their world is changing faster than ever as each year passes and that this rate of change is almost unmanageable. Although the very young may welcome this (or at least not feel quite so overwhelmed by it), most employees from around 25 years old and greater report this feeling more and more these days. However, they may not talk about this openly, fearing that this may threaten their continued employment.

Feeling unchallenged

Largely with the advent of much more computerization and other so-called labor saving technologies (driven heavily by the increasing use of Internet based technology) many people feel that their jobs have been stripped of some of the more interesting aspects or feel that tasks that gave them job enrichment are now lessened or even removed. In this environment there may be less day to day challenge.

So what can be done if these feelings are significant in your workplace?

If your employees are feeling isolated, re-design their work tasks to allow more contact with co-workers and as far as possible on a face-to-face basis. This may mean redesigning the job to be more team centric, allowing more “hot desk” working with colleagues, partnering two or more employees to meet and talk to one another (even when they work remotely from one another) and even allowing individuals to socialize with one another on a structured basis.

If your employees are feeling unable to cope, provide safe channels (and perhaps several different kinds) for them to talk about their issues and concerns. And for those who may be feeling this pressure but not necessarily admitting to it, ask direct supervisors to get alongside individuals and show them that they are there to help and reduce the pressure wherever possible. This might mean help in reducing pressure both in and out of work or in assigning a “buddy” to work with an individual so that they can learn new or different tasks that they may not have done before.

If your employees are feeling unchallenged, take the time to review how much real “stretch” employees have in their respective jobs (which is likely to involve talking to each of them openly about this). Especially when employees feel that technology has taken away part of their role, they are usually very happy to talk about adjusting what they do to make work more stimulating or interesting. This may also include setting new goals and performance standards which help them to get more challenge in their work and an organization to get more output.

None of the above suggestions are a surprise or complicated to implement. However, many organizations are not doing anything to alleviate these problems and therefore face the consequence of employees continuing to feel “all at sea” and either therefore producing less than they might or ultimately deciding to move on to another organization that cares more.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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