I recently read a CNN article that discussed workplace loneliness. It was not a topic I thought was much of a problem. However, after reading some more on the issue of loneliness, I found out that America is currently in the midst of a “Loneliness Epidemic” and this epidemic has found its way into corporations across the country.
In a world where people can be reached in a myriad of ways practically anywhere 24 hours a day 7 days a week, you would think loneliness would be the least of our problems. However, the reality is that you don’t have to be alone to feel lonely. Even though workplaces are more connected and open than every before, workers still feel lonely and isolated. The very tools of work connectivity and flexibility have isolated employees - technology, remote work and fewer human interactions.
So why is this topic important for companies to address and what can we do about it?
Well, first off, worker engagement is essential to productivity. A recent study**, found that lonely employees:
- Have lower job performance
- Are less committed to the company
- Seem less approachable to their coworkers
As a worker’s performance declines, companies might be losing their best employees because they are lonely. In addition, because of limited co-worker interactions and engagement, remote workers are more likely to quit because of loneliness than non-remote workers.
So what can companies can do to address this issue?
Pay Attention to Onboarding
Loneliness is particularly high in new employees. It makes sense when you realize that they are being dropped into a new workflow with a new culture and generally do not have any existing coworker friends to lean on. Companies need to make onboarding personal and make sure they are properly introduced and given a mentor who supports them and keeps track of their emotional development - not just someone who oversees that they are learning their job functions.
Recognizing an employee or team’s accomplishments creates a feeling of belonging. The employee feels that someone noticed them and if a team is being recognized, it bonds the group even further. This recognition doesn’t have to always be over the top. A simple thank you, a shout out at the morning dept. meeting, an intranet post to the whole company, etc. goes a long way to making employees feel appreciated and that they are making a difference.
Make Extra Efforts to Engage Your Remote Workers
This may seem the most difficult, but there are ways to boost connectivity with employees not physically in the office. Have the remote worker lead a video conference meeting, or take point on a project. Have managers make time to visit their reports regularly - by visiting them in their local field offices, or taking them out to lunch near their home.
Get Outside the Office
Finally, include non-work-related events into the company culture. Have managers put together employee lunches, a bowling night, or a department softball challenge. These events encourage coworkers to get to know each other in a more personal way - not just in their job function. These casual gatherings encourage employees to open up and bond in unique ways.
These tips may not solve the loneliness epidemic facing America today, but they can help strengthen company culture and bond departments and work teams into tighter, more supportive units. Try these tips with your reports and see how much happier they become.