The Rise of Loneliness at Work

Loneliness can have a profound impact on how well we perform in our roles at work. Imposter syndrome, feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem can lead to slumps in productivity and creative block, amplified by dropping levels of contact as businesses rely more and more on impersonal communication such as emails and direct messages.

But employees can feel just as lonely working in an office as they might when working remotely or from home, according to Professor Sigal Barsade of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. “Loneliness is a self-constructed assessment that an individual makes, based on their own psychological and social needs,” she explains. Of today’s workforce, Millennials and Generation Z are the most affected –nearly half of them report feeling lonely.

You’re not alone

Workplace loneliness is not something for individuals to combat alone – it is the company’s problem, especially as remote working becomes the norm for many businesses. Angela O’Connor, CEO of consultancy at The HR Lounge, says that a sense of employee disconnection can affect a company’s bottom line. “Detachment has an impact, not only on performance but also on confidence, leading to reductions in engagement and performance,” she says. “It can also lead to increases in turnover where staff seek more meaningful work.” Falling motivation also means that lonely workers take twice as many sick days and demonstrate weaker performance.

Keep the connection

Organisational culture is crucial to preventing workplace loneliness. Face-to-face interaction is still one of the best ways to build a sense of connection among employees, according to a recent Cigna study, which states that the “frequency of one’s in-person interactions is a key indicator of how lonely they are.” Survey respondents who spoke to one another daily had an average loneliness score nearly 20 points lower than those who didn’t. Companies that urge a policy of daily calls with employees, as well as social gatherings whether virtual or in-person, will build strong connections between teams and a sense of camaraderie among the workforce.

a meeting a day…

To keep loneliness among remote workers at bay, business leaders should ask employees to lead virtual meetings each week and encourage at least one day of work at a satellite office or nearby coworking space to help their team build relationships. New hires should be assigned ‘work partners’ to foster social engagement early on, while company-wide teambuilding activities can encourage knowledge sharing across different departments, which can only do good things for your business.

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