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How You May Be Alienating Your Employees (and How to Stop)

Kylie Ora Lobell

Keeping workers in the loop and giving them a chance to shine are just two of the ways you can keep your employees happy and engaged.

  • Workplace alienation happens when employees feel separated from themselves and others.
  • Employees often feel alienated from production, themselves, and others at work, and employers must take an active role in preventing those feelings.
  • Transparent communication, an open-door policy, and employee recognition programs are some ways company leaders can prevent alienation.
  • This article is for business owners and managers who want to understand workplace alienation in order to improve retention and their employees' happiness.

Employers who want to reduce employee turnover should make sure their employees are interested in their work, research shows.

More than 60% of workers said they'd be at least somewhat likely to leave their current position if they felt their work wasn't captivating enough, according to a study by Robert Half's OfficeTeam. That disengagement hurts not just employees but also the company.

"When workers are disengaged, retention shouldn't be a company's only concern; productivity and customer service levels also suffer," said Robert Hosking, OfficeTeam executive director at the time of the study, in a statement. "There are many factors that contribute to strong employee engagement. Chief among them is the ability of staff to reach professional goals and understand how they contribute to the organization's big-picture objectives."

​​What is alienation in the workplace?

Alienation in the workplace happens when a worker can express individuality only when they are producing work. The worker is a piece of a whole, and they begin to lose their voice. They lose their independence and become just another cog in the wheel. 

Employees become emotionally separated from others and their own feelings when they feel alienated. Feelings of alienation can happen without the employee or their manager even realizing it.

TipTip: Want to understand how your employees are feeling? Try presenting a feedback survey to give your employees a way to share concerns and offer an inside perspective anonymously.

Why does alienation happen?

Work alienation can happen for several reasons. Workers may not feel empowered to speak their minds because their bosses don't let them know they want employee feedback. Employees might be scared to speak up or think it's inappropriate to volunteer an honest opinion if their boss isn't asking for it. 

Additionally, work alienation could occur if bosses aren't paying appropriate attention to employees. A performance review once a year is not enough to evaluate and track employee performance properly. Managers being in constant communication with employees and holding regular one-on-one meetings can remedy this. 

If an employee is working remotely while the rest of the team is in the office, they might experience work alienation and feel out of the loop. If you host team-building activities and give your remote employees the tools they need to stay in touch with the team, they're less likely to experience work alienation. 

Employers should treat employees like human beings, not just workers. If they don't, work alienation is likely. For instance, employees may feel alienated if they are reprimanded for taking time off. Employers creating a paid time off (PTO) policy, giving employees holidays and sick days, and being flexible when they have emergencies will make them feel more valued and seen. 

If your team isn't already remote, you could also set up a work-from-home system so that when employees need to stay home for the day, they can do so without repercussions. 

TipTip: You can keep your remote workforce connected and engaged with the best remote working tools, such as Slack, Zoom, and Convene. Read our Microsoft Teams review and our Basecamp review to learn about some good options.

What does alienation do to an employee?

When employees feel alienated from their managers and co-workers, they feel like objects, or nameless cogs in the machine. Alienation makes employees feel like they're not needed in their jobs. As a result, they feel no loyalty to the company and are eager to look for other jobs. [Read related article: Employee Burnout and How to Identify It]

How companies alienate employees

There are many ways companies alienate employees, sometimes without even realizing it. That's why it's essential to pay attention to the signs your employees are giving you.

Here are some ways you may be alienating your employees and how to correct it, according to OfficeTeam:

  • Keeping them in the dark. Instead: Whenever feasible, give your staff updates on the company's financial performance and long- and short-term goals, and explain what this information means for them and their jobs. Being in the loop will help employees feel more connected to the organization.

  • Not asking for their input. Instead: Actively seek feedback from your team members. Keep an open-door policy as well as an open mind so that it's easy for employees to approach you, and encourage other managers and leaders in your company to do the same. You should also reach out to employees who may be uncomfortable voicing their thoughts to ensure their ideas are heard.

  • Keeping them boxed in. Instead: Encourage your staff members to take on new responsibilities and projects. This gives them a chance to build confidence and achieve greater things.

  • Ignoring their goals. Instead: Talk to your team members about their ambitions, and work with them on meeting those objectives. It's crucial for employees to set career goals to feel they're working toward a larger objective, and just as critical for the company to support their professional aspirations.

  • Working them too hard. Instead: Remind your workers to take regular breaks to recharge, and set a good example by taking breaks yourself. When your team seems particularly stressed, encourage workplace stress-reduction measures, such as taking a collective breather with snacks or a catered lunch.

  • Playing favorites. Instead: Make sure to treat employees equally and distribute the work fairly. You may not realize you're giving more opportunities and recognition to particular employees, so make a conscious effort to give everyone a fair chance.

  • Not valuing them. Instead: Recognize your employees' contributions to the organization, even the small ones. When employees feel appreciated, they'll care more about their work and put in more effort.

What are the types of alienation?

Alienation comes in several forms, and all are damaging to an employee's morale and the overall company culture.

  • Alienation from production: This type of alienation happens when the worker doesn't see the final product they're involved in making; instead, they focus only on a piece of the product. As a result, they don't understand their role in the bigger process.

  • Alienation from the act of production: This happens when an employee is only given a set of instructions to complete; they're unaware of the entire process. The employee never has a role in the whole vision or planning, and they're made to feel that those who create the vision are an elite class.

  • Alienation from themselves: By nature, people want to be creative and then implement those ideas. This type of alienation happens when people can't maintain that part of their humanity; they feel they can't be themselves. They may even begin to feel like they are not human.

  • Alienation from others: This type of alienation tends to happen when workers specialize in a small piece of a larger whole. While it may be suitable for employees to have a specialty, there's a danger of employees feeling like they're in a thankless job, and they also may feel they're missing out on bonding with others. 

Chad Brooks contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.

Image Credit: Deagreez / Getty Images
Kylie Ora Lobell
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Kylie Ora Lobell is a business and human resources writer who has written for LegalZoom, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), WeWork, Mastercard, and Visa. Additionally, she creates marketing content for law firms and covers personal finance topics. She has been published in New York Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.