Workplace loneliness. The term sounds a tad unreal, especially with the open-plan, single-floor offices where you have colleagues sitting around you. But sadly, the truth of the hour is that in this age of ultra-connectedness through social media and smart communication platforms, a lot of people have reported feeling lonely and disconnected. You may be sitting in a crowded conference room full of colleagues and yet feel lonely.
Workplace loneliness can have serious consequences not just for the particular employee in question, but also the overall business. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, loneliness can translate to a reduced lifespan equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, an even greater threat than obesity.
Furthermore, loneliness is a serious epidemic that has a significant effect on a worker’s output.
Let’s look into the details of this workplace issue, its impact on the business and what can we do to wipe it off!
What Causes Workplace Loneliness In The First Place?
Here are some of the factors that are contributing to workplace loneliness…
1. Advancements In Technology:
Technological advancements have offered convenience and efficiency to the workplaces, but are also one of the major contributors to the absence of personal connections, which is one of the basic needs of every person. Instead of reaching out and talking to a colleague, one can simply shoot an email or slack him, which is completely normal, but it does strip out important human interactions.
An emotional exchange is a critical building block for relationships. That bond is completely missing from workplaces with the latest technology.
2. Rise Of The ‘Remote Workplace’:
The rise of freelance and remote working arrangements is another reason behind workplace loneliness. Since the beginning, humans have evolved to work in groups. In fact, staff lunches and after work drinks are considered staple in a good working environment buzzing with driven people.
But as more employees work remotely now, the way we communicate with our teams and colleagues is rapidly changing. No catch-ups in the morning near the coffee machine or the typical lunch-hour conversations because of working remotely can often lead to a feeling of loneliness.
3. Hot Desking:
Hot desking, which involves agile workplaces where employees can change their workstation as they like is another contributor to employees feeling lonely. When you sat in the same place every day you may have to endure a co-worker’s rant about their spouse, but you would also notice if it was their birthday today or if they took a sick leave, all of which provided shared moments of connection.
Today, when hot desking is such a popular part of our work culture, we would hardly notice or know something about the person sitting just a chair away.
How Workplace Loneliness Affects Businesses?
Workplace loneliness is on the rise and is proving detrimental not just to the worker well-being but is also bad for business. There is a direct correlation between loneliness and productivity and absenteeism. Employees without close or supportive relationships at work are more likely to feel disconnected from their jobs and that can affect their performance.
According to research conducted by California State University and Wharton School of Business, the quality of an employee’s interpersonal relationships has a significant impact on how they perceive and connect with their workplace.
It also found that loneliness at work triggers emotional withdrawal, which affects not only the individual but co-workers as well, leading researchers to conclude that loneliness is an organizational problem, not a personal one. So what should organizations do to combat loneliness at work and provide an office culture that focuses on inclusion and productivity rather than seclusion and a dwindling bottom line? Let’s find out!
What Should Companies Do To Tackle Workplace Loneliness?
Here’s what companies can do to ensure their employees don’t become victims of workplace loneliness!
1. Talk It Out:
It is concerning to see how very few people reach out or talk to someone in the office about how lonely they feel at work. According to a study, it was found that one in four men and one in five women have never told anyone about their loneliness.
Employees often feel hesitant to speak out about it because of the closed culture at the office or simply because it is human to feel weak, incompetent or unable to cope.
To put it in percentage terms, 13% did not tell anyone at work about their loneliness because they feared it could harm their career.
Another 9% said they didn’t tell their colleagues about feeling lonely because they were embarrassed. These findings highlight how important it is for employers to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable discussing mental health.
HR and line managers have to play a crucial role in fostering a culture where people can talk freely about these issues. Having someone to turn to and feeling connected is a basic human need and essential to our well-being. Just asking someone, “Are you okay?” can also make a huge difference.
2. Engaging Culture:
Just as it is the duty of the employer to have a conducive environment at the office, it is everybody’s responsibility to maintain an office culture that is open and caring. Introducing some element of fun at work is one of the easiest and cost-effective solutions to do away with workplace loneliness. Switch things up at the office and try some team building activities to get everyone energized.
Group activities – both structured and less formal – are great ways to support connection and create an environment that embraces the unique identities and experiences of employees in and out of the office. Activities as simple as grabbing a cup of coffee with a new colleague or having a good conversation about how is life, goes a long way. Internal events create continuity, unity and help employees experience the company as a whole.
You can also consider arranging external functions like off-site lunches and retreats as ways to promote bonding. After all, people build friendships by not always talking about work, they are more likely to open up when they get out of the office.
3. Focus On Remote Workers:
Remote workers are as much a part of our workforce as the regular office visiting folks and due to the benefits associated with it, let’s say that the trend is here to stay. Therefore, it is extremely essential to make them feel as much a part of important company discussions as the people sitting in brick and mortar offices. Don’t just have a remote worker video conference in an office meeting.
Let them lead the meeting, in a way that empowers them and also gives them accountability. If there are multiple office locations, employers should make time and visit employees. Its all about investing in your workers.
4. Promote Social Interactions:
By encouraging a workplace of connections and focusing on social conversations, you can strike gold. Try to have more networks and more working in collaborative teams. It is good to survey employees to determine how socially connected they feel and examining how office design and alternative work arrangements, like telecommuting, can affect relationships.
To incorporate stronger communication and collaboration amongst your team, consider promoting co-worker appreciation and encouraging employee feedback.
Workplace loneliness is a day to day struggle for many, a struggle which can lead to serious issues related to mental health and a bad business which consists of people who feel disconnected. Let’s work towards creating workplaces that foster a culture towards human-centredness, which eliminates loneliness from its roots.