“Feeling isolated at work could be the difference between loving your job and dreading the thought of Monday morning” (Amy Simpson – Workplace)
No matter how large or busy a company, many people carry the burden of feeling lonely and isolated at work. Often induced by an environment that is non-inclusive with respect to diversity or a manager that is neglectful, making no deliberate attempts to engage subordinates, employees are negatively impacted through the emotional distance caused by less than authentic relationships and feelings of exclusion. The subsequent bouts of loneliness impact physical, emotional and mental health, productivity and ultimately company profitability.
In the USA, Cigna’s recently released bombshell report surveyed over 20 000 adult respondents nationwide using the UCLA loneliness scale and found that 54% of respondents sometimes or always feel that no one knows them well. The health insurer’s report gave the US a loneliness score of “44”, meaning “most Americans are considered lonely”. Not only does this have huge ramifications from a societal perspective, but also should be a urgent indicator to company leadership to create a culture within the workplace that is inclusive, fun and engaging. Ultimately, employers owe it to the future of their companies and their employees to put measures in place to chip away at this seemingly growing sense of collective emotional isolation.
When investigating levels of employee engagement, Gallup’s question: “Do you have a best friend at work?” solicited a response of only two out of ten respondents strongly agreeing with the statement. This lack of connection has implications for productivity. Steve Miranda of Cornell University believes that a lack of friendships at work or social connection can be bad for people and indeed, bad for business too. According to Miranda, people offer less discretionary effort when they feel isolated. They’re less motivated to do any more than the minimum. As productivity suffers, so, too, the bottom line is impacted negatively.
Managers should consider the following:
- The physical layout of the building – does the physical workspace encourage interaction? Amy Simpson notes: “In the future of work, being open for business may extend to the very fabric of the building itself”. Successful companies are looking at how the working environment can increase meaningful interactions in the workplace and how these, in turn, can boost productivity, happiness and the fortunes of the company.
- Intentionally applying an engagement strategy – meaningful employee engagement requires focus and energy from all in leadership. Manager accessibility and being fully present emotionally when with employees bring feelings of security to all in the workplace. Manager distance has the opposite effect – lowered levels of self-confidence amongst employees, a sense that the manager doesn’t really care and diffused focus.
- Planning fun events – dress-up or dress-down days, eating together, celebrations, etc. The potential list is endless, but of importance is to laugh a lot with employees and have fun while you work.
- Modelling and valuing communication excellence – all communication should connect to the company’s “big picture”, mission, vision and values. This enables employees to sense the value that they are adding and to understand their respective roles within the broader context.
- Keeping people focused on key business outcomes and performance expectations – focus here drives energy and collaboration amongst teams. Silos will thus slowly be dismantled and teams will engage to improve results.
- Recognising exceptional performance – great work needs to be acknowledged with appropriate celebration, recognition and even reward.
Feelings of isolation and loneliness in the workplace can be overcome through attentive company leaders who demonstrate care and who connect and engage emotionally with all employees. Inclusion, valuing diversity and effectively communicating with employees harnesses creativity and ideas for improvement and ultimately impacts the bottom line.