Organization Development

Mar 28, 2023 11 min read

About Fear, loneliness and Exile at Workplace

Talking about exile inevitably involves talking about belonging. Belonging is a key component of inclusion. All employees want to feel that they belong in the workplace. ‘Belonging’ is an accumulation of day-to-day experiences that enables a person to feel safe and bring their full, unique self to work. It is an inherent need in everyone. But workplaces often fail to foster a sense of belonging in their employees which can end up driving them away. If the work place is not conducive to the growth and development of the employee, he/she starts feeling let out, lonely and in exile!

The word “exile,” from Latin exilium, is derived from exsilire (leap out). It is defined as the notion of being forced to leave one’s own space or place (country). Thus, “exile” refers to those who have been forced to leave their own space for an undetermined and extended time. The idea of exile would not exist if we felt a sense of belonging to the whole world, to all people around us, to all kinds of foods, to all dialects, and to every kind of humour. Thus exile is a condition of dislocation, disorientation, and unrest.

Human history offers an endless list of several types of exile, which have been interpreted in different ways. M.A. Meyer DeMott, in his book ‘Reconstructing Meaning after Trauma’ (Academic Press, 2017) defined Exile in four different categories:

  • Political exile. The refugees’ perception is not congruent with the government in their mother country. The extension of their punishment is that they are not welcome in their own country.

  • Emotional exile. They can come home according to the government, but because of going through radical culture differences while living in exile, they feel it emotionally impossible to return. Children risk being mobbed because they have become so different while they lived in exile. Another example is a man who felt he could not return to Chile because when he was in exile and the police failed to find him, they tortured his brother instead.

  • Exile from the body. Refugees live “outside of their bodies” and observe the body as though it were someone else’s. This coping mechanism of dissociating from the body is one of the most common among torture victims. Their bodies are numb and they have no emotional affect.

  • Exile from culture. Refugees come from cultures that are radically different from the new country’s in language, religion, climate, and social interaction. They are living outside of their culture.

Loneliness is a painful emotion that occurs when a person perceives that he or she is alone, or is being shunned by and isolated from other people- a kind of exile. It can arise from working in a virtual or geographically dispersed team. It often results in an emotional withdrawal from the organization and the person tend to be less committed, creative, collaborative and attentive. In such an environment both the quality and quantity of their work can deteriorate. Each one of us may be pray to this culture of exile and the challenge is how to identify and manage to end them. Here are few practical approaches to be adopted to convert the workplace into a sustainable and co-habitable one.

  1. Ensuring Transparency & Equality: People often feel left out due to preferential treatments at workplace. This is damaging leadership behaviour and a major reason for people to feel exiled. Following transparent code of conduct at work place is the best managerial step to ensure all employees are treated fairly and equally.

  2. Hierarchy in communication: For a team ‘belonging; means everyone is equal and marching together toward common goals. However, at times the verbal or non-verbal hierarchy displayed at workplace leads division between say ‘management team’ and the ‘employees’. This will lead to perception of ‘their job’ and ‘my job’ instead of desirable ‘our job’. Managers have to make conscious efforts to team build and foster a culture of belonging among the team mates.

  3. Coping to Culture cliques: For an organization, any type of misconduct, even office cliques, could increase their risk for costly future issues that can impact the organization’s bottom line. Culture is about the “attitudes and behaviours people unconsciously adopt to fit in with the expectations of the people around them”. To weed out cliques, it’s important to identify why they are happening. Make an effort to help everyone feel they belong. Efforts to strengthen bonds between all co-workers through fun-games and celebrations are highly recommended. Avenues for employees to report issues and concerns is another way to identify cliques that may pause a bigger problem or could be a force for good.

  4. Breaking down Silos: Sometimes organizations get ‘siloed’ because they have grown so large that creating a sense of cohesiveness among departments has gotten complex. Silos often stem from a fear of sharing information. People might be afraid of changing old habits. They might not feel confident their peers will do the right thing, or might even make their work harder. So breaking Silos is the beginning towards moving to working collectively. When employees have that reassuring sense that they belong to the company overall, they don’t have to close ranks and play power games. Thus, they feel safe and start to share and collaborate.

  5. Empowering Employee Self development: Personal development in the workplace offers a range of benefits for both business and employees. It is the most effective remedy for employee turnover. It will help to keep employees motivated, and improve profitability. Personal growth and development empowers employees to produce better results and also meet their goals throughout the year. Through development opportunities within workplace, one can expect to attract prospective employees, at the same time keep current employee population motivated, productive and confident. Thus the ideal company makes its best employees even better.

As an employee, what one can do?

For an employee true belonging is knowing that he/she is not ‘just a part’ in the ‘machine’. Rather, it is to know that management cares about future of each one and wants one to live up to their potential. However, relieving a fear of failure or loneliness isn’t only up to managers, there are ways workers also can manage their own anxieties.

Here are some tips:

  • Prioritize-Prioritize your responsibilities, and delegate when possible.

  • Seek Guidance-Ask for direction when facing a challenging project or new responsibilities.

  • Go to a mentor-Don’t be afraid to tap a mentor for advice on a challenge.

  • Learn to Listen- In a world where many people feel more disconnected than ever before, learning to listen to emotions is crucial.

  • Be curious - Always be inquisitive and upgrading your skills.

Let us strive to create an authentic organization and fully realize human potential at work.


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