Lost Wagers

Out Of Touch

Are e-mail and voice mail making your employees feel lonely?

Electronic means of communicating--such as e-mail and voice mail--are replacing much of the face-to-face contact we had in the past. And although that may seem to be efficient, it could ultimately hinder employees' productivity.

"Along with high tech, people need high touch--and that's what we're beginning to miss," says Nancy Garbett, president of Transition Management Inc., an organizational consulting firm in Salt Lake City. "People don't have the connections they need to be creative and stay motivated. We must have [face-to-face] relationships if we're going to be productive." Furthermore, that lack of human interaction can eventually cause physical illness, Garbett says.

The symptoms of isolation to look out for range from your employees developing poor attitudes to a rise in absenteeism. "It's almost like a little-kid kind of thing--people whine and have a `no one likes me anymore' attitude," Garbett says.

To combat isolation, Garbett advises holding regularly scheduled meetings at least once a week. Managers should also informally spend some time with employees on a daily basis. "Make sure you interact with people every day in a meaningful way, not just superficially," Garbett says. "Walk by and say `hi' to people. Spend five minutes talking--it doesn't have to be about business issues. A lot of people have the idea that if a person is chatting with someone else, they're being unproductive. But chatting often creates synergy, the brain linkages that result in creativity and productivity."

You can also take your employees to lunch or out for happy hour after work, or you can periodically bring lunch in and give employees a chance to relax together over a meal. It's important to remember that work--even when it involves communicating with others--can't take the place of the critical human contact necessary for people to maintain healthy and productive lives.

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This article was originally published in the July 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lost Wagers.

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