The Next Employee Challenge: Loneliness In the Workplace

Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Being alone is … being by yourself. If you Google loneliness, it’s being “sad because one has no friends or company.” Often, we talk about loneliness in terms of older people. In the New York Times article, “The Surprising Effects of Loneliness on Health”, the author shares that loneliness can raise stress levels, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and dementia. 

The truth is there’s no rule that only old people get lonely. My friend Dan Schawbel has recently published a book titled “Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation”. If you’re not familiar with Dan’s work, he has two other New York Times best-selling books: “Me 2.0” and “Promote Yourself”. He also did an interview on HR Bartender a few years ago about reinventing your personal brand

Anyway, back to the book. In “Back to Human”, Dan suggests that our increased use of (and addiction to) technology is a key contributor to loneliness. And when people are lonely, it has an impact on their work. Totally makes sense. The solution? Create more connectedness at work. Frankly, that’s easier said than done.

If you’re wondering how connected you are right now with your co-workers, the book offers information about an assessment called the Work Connectivity Index (WCI). This could be a great starting point in your journey toward creating a more connected workplace. 

I don’t have to tell you that having a company culture where employees feel connected is going to result in greater engagement, higher productivity, and increased retention. The question is how to move from “unconnected” or less connected to more connected. In his book, Dan talks about focusing on the employee experience in three specific areas.

Culture – The book shares a few stories about the advantages of creating a company culture that on the surface might seem “cult-like” with its unique jargon and traditions. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. When employees feel like they’re part of the club or part of the team, private jokes can bring the group closer. Obviously, the situation must be monitored so it doesn’t cross the line toward being a clique. 

Relationships – Years ago, I went on a job interview for a hotel leadership position. During the interview, I was given a tour. We were walking though the kitchen when an employee asked who I was, and the general manager told them. Then the employee said to me, “I hope you come to work here.” And gave me a hug. I got that job (and I took that job) because I felt like I was working with family. Relationships matter. Simply working with someone on a project isn’t the same as having a relationship with them. Managers and employees need to build relationships.

Space – Let’s face it, our physical work space is important. If we’re not comfortable, we can’t do our best work. And if we’re not comfortable, we won’t feel like building relationships with anyone (see #2 above). Organizations need to provide employees with work areas that have proper ventilation, lighting, and ergonomic furniture. They also need to provide current technology so employees can be effective.  

My takeaway from Dan Schawbel’s book “Back to Human” isn’t to eliminate technology. It’s to do a better job of working with it. As more organizations find themselves in the midst of a digital transformation, I see “Back to Human” being required reading for managers and leaders. Organizations must take a proactive approach and create a more connected workplace.