Loneliness in the workplace?
Let’s talk about #loneliness .
Loneliness is the 21st-century unspoken pandemic that has intensified in the covid and post-covid era (affecting already more than 50% in USA and UK, and increasing dramatically in Europe and Japan (more statistics here). Companies are not spared from having this pandemic among their employees.
How do this pandemic and employees´ loneliness affect companies’ performance?
We know that lonely people have worst health, more depression and suicides, cardiovascular disease and strokes, increase stress, drug and alcohol abuse, and antisocial behavior. It is as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Workers that feel lonely, not only report doing a poorer quality job and are less productive, but they also feel less committed and engaged at their work (producing higher turnovers). This is just another proof that a company’s performance is directly linked to employees’ well-being.
But what do managers/companies do about it?
We have to understand that being alone is not the same as feeling lonely. The former is physical isolation, the latter a distressful emotion. We can be surrounded by others, be with others, but feel miserably lonely. Thus, it is not enough for managers to just put people in a room together, there is more to do about it.
Being alone ≠ Feeling lonely
As I foresee it and am working on it in my new upcoming book “The A Factor”, there are 4 levels of loneliness:
1.- Being alone and wanting to be with others.
2.- Being with others, but unable to communicate.
3.- Communicating with others, but unable to connect.
4.- Connecting, but needing more variety of connections.
Giving a short example of each in a work environment, it would be in order to something like this:
1.- Working remotely and desiring more co-workers’ in-person interaction.
2.- Being with others in a meeting room, but unable to speak up our opinion.
3.- Giving our opinion, but feeling like others don’t really get it or care about it or even me.
4.- Lacking a good work-life balance that allows me time outside work to be with other friends, spouse, or family.
As you may guess, each example points out a problem and thus a solution. However, the solutions are not as easy and straightforward as we may think at first. Creating companionship is the first step, but not enough.
Dealing with people
Companies are going to have to realize that they deal with people, and people want attention, respect, and meaningful and satisfying in-person social interactions. These are basic human needs. But do companies believe they have to provide it?
Creating an environment of companionships is a positive company cultural endeavor, but there is more to work on the human level. Companionship helps to develop proper communication but does not necessarily achieve connection. Humans aim to connect, not just be there or speak up about our opinions on something. We need more than that.
How is your experience in your current or previous companies? Do/did you feel lonely sometimes? Often? Always? Is/was there a good camaraderie? Was that enough? or you had to look for connections outside the workplace? How much did your company care about this matter? How it make you feel?
PS: In the book I am working on, I talk more on the personal level about loneliness, but would love your perspective and feedback on how work place loneliness affects and is related to personal loneliness.
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