The Theory of Dislocation

Feeling Dislocated ?

Dislocation is defined as:

“the disturbance from a proper, original or usual place” or the “disruption of an established order”

We often hear the term dislocation when it refers to people or populations who have had to flee their homes in times of crisis due to war, natural disaster or poverty. However it is – to a lesser degree, something that can occur for any of us throughout the life cycle of our careers resulting in anxiety, lack of purpose, loneliness and isolation.

There is nothing ‘Norm’ about the New ‘Norm’ – Where do I belong ?

Now more so than ever during this period of huge disruption, leaders and employees alike are experiencing dislocation and isolation from their workplaces and work colleagues. There is nothing ‘norm’ about our new ‘norm’. For those of us fortunate to have employment, we are home, but unable to be fully present in our homes due to our work commitments. We are working, but unable to be fully present in our jobs due to family commitments. Dislocation can invoke feelings of unease, apathy, anxiety and stress. Dislocation leads us to question “where do I belong?”

I first noticed the phenomenon of dislocation a number of years ago and more recently through research I have done. Specifically, people who either through circumstance- such as redundancy or maternity/parental leave or choice -through sabbatical or career break, have found themselves in an unfamiliar situation of ‘stuck’, with feelings of  not really belonging in one place or another – ultimately leading to isolation and displacement.

Who can feel Dislocated ?

To explain by example; a person who finds themselves in a redundancy situation can discover a distance emerges between them and former colleagues, either real or perceived and this tends to become magnified over time. They may find they don’t quite fit in at the office anymore. Additionally, they find they have a lot more time to spend at home but can feel they don’t quite belong fully or have a defined role here either. The result is that they experience dislocation, feelings of anxiety and with a lack of security, a lack of belonging or knowing ‘where their place is’  can lead to them feeling like a bit of an outsider in both camps.

The same is true of parents and people who have taken time out of their careers due to caring for children or the elderly. Not only does dislocation occur when they leave the workplace, it also occurs on their return. Interestingly, where it tends to be perpetuated most is in the cohort of people who return to work on part-time basis, they tend to feel a ‘double dislocation’ as it is likely they don’t fit in with the parents at work, the ‘stay at home’ parents OR their full time colleagues.

I am seeing evidence of dislocation presenting with increased frequency with clients in situations outside where I would normally expect to see it as businesses and employees grapple with the sudden changes that Covid-19 has necessitated.

However if dislocation is recognised and acknowledged by business leaders, with the correct supports it can be managed effectively and tends be present for a temporary period.

As business leaders there are actions to take and supports to put in place.

Top of the list:

  • Communication is key.
  • Having a plan in place with structures for addressing your employees concerns is imperative. People need to know you care, feel supported and know how to ask for help.
  • Communicate the message that asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness.
  • Seek input and feedback, this will allow you to address issues as they arise, put necessary changes in place and do more of what is working well.
  • Speak to your employees individually. Ask “what supports do you need from me to make things better or work more effectively for you right now, in a week, in a month”, “What is working well…what is not working so well.” Seek solutions.
  • Speak to your employees collectively as a team. Ask “what supports do you need from me to make things better or work more effectively for you right now, in a week, in a month”. What is working well…what is not working so well..” Seek solutions. It can be revealing how different the answers will be by posing this question to individual and groups separately!
  • Discuss dislocation in the context of change, people find change difficult when they view it as negative or a threat to their stability, status or their ability to get their job done. Name it – Dislocation – “disruption of an established order” and convey, that it is a temporary state and feeling.
  • Be honest and acknowledge that team dynamics may have changed and identify what is working well and also where there may be room for improvement or why there may be a need for change. People are more likely to engage with the change at an earlier stage if they feel they have been involved in the change.
  • If people understand the change and feel supported by you in that change, it is less likely to lead to enduring feelings of dislocation.
  • Talk about dislocation, and how it can be used as an opportunity to build resilience. Sometimes our biggest learnings are borne from our greatest challenges.
  • Resilience across business is key. Whilst resilient employees will fare well in times of dislocation and change, so too will resilient leaders and businesses. This will facilitate and enable the transition and re-alignment to occur more quickly and successfully as you move through the change process and through the change curve.

Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment and try something new with your employees, reflexivity and agility will pay providence.

If you would like any further information on the topic of Dislocation and how we can support your business, please get in touch –

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