Break the Cycle of Loneliness at Work

Do you ever feel like you don’t really connect with anyone at work? Do you feel as if your relationships at work are superficial? Do you feel as if people at work don’t really understand you? You’re not alone.

“It was an average morning. I was up at seven, helped get the kids their breakfast and hustled them to get ready for school. They left, and I went back upstairs to get dressed for work. But that’s not what I did. I got back into bed, and lay there for another hour, staring at the ceiling. I’m lonely at work and staring at the ceiling for an hour was about as much as I could face.”
– Anonymous

According to a new survey of 20,000 Americans conducted by health care provider Cigna, we are at an all-time alarming high in terms of feeling lonely and isolated. Almost half of us (47%) feel as if we are left out, which also means that only the other half (53%) feel as if we are having meaningful, connected and valued conversations.

Don’t blame it on social media. According to the study, use of social media wasn’t a big predictor of feeling isolated and alone. Those who describe themselves as regular social media consumers had social loneliness scores nearly identical to those who don’t use social media at all.

The implications for work are enormous. People who feel disconnected socially at their jobs, also feel disengaged from their work. Loneliness in the workplace isn’t a private and personal issue, it’s an organizational culture issue.

“It’s critical that employers create a space where employees can connect face-to-face and form meaningful relationships with their co-workers.”
– Douglas Nemecek, M.D.

Be an Emotional Catalyst
You can start by being the instigator of positive emotional contagion. In order to feel more connected at work, we have to start by being more connected ourselves. I’m suggesting that solving our sense of isolation starts by taking social initiative. Our emotions are contagious, and the more we reach out with intentional empathy and connection to others, the more likely we are to be graciously received. It starts a virtuous cycle and elevates the mood state of our team.

Signal Emotional Fit
When it looks like someone is retreating emotionally and psychologically, be that person who first reaches out. Even better, create an institutional expectation that we support, connect and affirm one another. On the playground, at our daughter’s elementary school there is something called the “Buddy Bench.” By sitting on the Buddy Bench you are signaling to others you don’t currently have someone to play with. As our daughter describes it, there is no stigma associated with it, kids go sit there all the time.

Create a Connective Environment
I’ve been reading a number of interviews with Zappos founder and CEO Tony Hsieh, who claims one of the key ingredients in a successful company with highly engaged people, and high levels of innovation, is to create more moments of casual, unpretentious human to human conversations, or “collisions” as he calls them.

“Research has shown that most innovation actually happens from something outside your industry being applied to your own. And those are the results of random conversations at bars or coffee shops or just when you have collisions with other people.”
– Tony Hsieh

Positive group environments are linked to elevated sense of satisfaction, cooperation with others, heightened work engagement, and performance outcomes. I’m not suggesting we remain constantly positive and ignore failure, give false praise, or overlook adversity. In fact, sharing negative feelings can create solidarity and unify a group. But that shared negativity needs to be brief, specific, and then set aside to move on.

Have a look at our new micro-learning series Raising Resiliency featuring bestselling author Jen Shirkani. Message me if you’re interested and we’ll send you a preview. Enjoy!


SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Routledge) just released. You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
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