Loneliness is detrimental, destructive, and sometimes deadly. Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, more than even obesity. Different than depression or feelings of solitude, loneliness is more about the quality of a person’s social relationships. The workplace is not immune, and everyone pays the price when loneliness strikes. When people feel tired and lonely, they disengage, perpetuating the cycle. As leaders we need to wake up to this issue, and continue to identify new ways to build connection amongst our teams. If you need compelling data to kick you into action, read on:
1. According to recently published research in the Academy of Management Journal, lower job performance is related to loneliness. In addition, coworkers perceived lonely employees to be less committed and approachable.
2. Cigna’s online survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults 18 years and older found that most Americans are considered lonely. Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) and Millennials (adults ages 23-37) are lonelier and claim to be in worse health than older generations.
3. Cigna’s survey also reported approximately six in ten (59%) surveyed always/sometimes feel that their interests and ideas are not shared by those around them.
Reasons contributing to these statistics include technology, social media, working remotely, busier schedules, extensive travel, job turnover, fewer individuals participating in community activities, sports teams and clubs, postponing vacations, lunches and even marriages! For some, a cancelled activity brings a sigh of relief to an already full life, but for others, this same situation may only reaffirm feelings of loneliness and cause further withdrawal.
“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”
We’re neurologically hard wired for connection which demands leaders create spaces and places for relationships to form. Keep in mind, connection gets created when you feel someone is genuinely interested in your story, your history, or your ideas. Connection often results through shared activities, thoughtful questions and being present when listening. Connected leaders patiently draw out those who aren’t quick to join in a conversation and look for ways to partner team members that otherwise would remain distant.
For example, one leader I interviewed for an upcoming speaking engagement shared that during his team’s monthly meetings, individuals rotate responsibility for bringing a dish or treat to share. But, there’s a twist. Individuals must bring something that reminds them of their culture, family, or a memory. Offering that piece of information, along with the dish, is what makes this moment memorable. The more we learn about one another, the less judgment and bias we bring to the table.
A virtual IT team I spoke to has regularly scheduled “virtual” parties to include dressing up for Halloween, celebrating birthdays and other milestones, along with after-hours drinks. Through visual technology, they do their best to bring everyone together and even play games such as Bingo and Twenty Questions to get the party started.
In a couple of weeks, I’m speaking to a company who will spend their evening together building and decorating skateboards for the Boys and Girls Club, rather than a traditional meet and greet. Not only will this activity provide an opportunity for the team to connect, but they will be serving a community. And the fastest way to overcome loneliness is to give service to another.
These situations alone will not eradicate loneliness. As a leader you must continue to check in with your team on an individual level to recognize small, behavioral changes signaling a possible concern. Your role is to provide a safe space for them to share and feel heard. A quick, “How’s it going?” as you pop by their office or begin a phone conversation will only ever get a trite response. After all, being connected is very different than feeling connected. What will you do to make an impact on the loneliness epidemic amongst your team?