One of the greatest challenges that we as humans face is overcoming the feelings of loneliness that can set in on us at any time. We live in an instant world, connected by social media platforms that sometimes are anything but social. We can access friends (old and new) and family all over the world. Our phones connect us to a never-ending cycle of information, news, music, videos, text, and calls. Yet in all the connectedness, we are a people who are relationally disconnected. We may have 1000 “friends” on Facebook, but few real friends in real life.
To deny the influence that loneliness has on people and subsequently on their performance in the workplace is a miscalculation of epic proportions. And yet, it’s an issue that is not often talked about among HR professionals, much less considered.
WHY LONELINESS MATTERS
An academic study in 2011, by professors from California State University and Wharton School of Business, explained why workplace loneliness matters. “While loneliness may be thought of as a private emotion, we find here that in employee work loneliness is also a social phenomenon, observable by an employee’s coworkers, and having a significant influence on employee work performance, both in direct tasks, as well as employee team member and team role effectiveness rated by both the employee’s work unit members and supervisor.”
Putting aside for the moment the direct impact that loneliness has on the person suffering, we see that it also directly affects:
- Work performance in direct tasks, and
- Team member and team role effectiveness
In other words, a person’s loneliness that is also perceived by his or her colleagues, directly impacts his or her job performance, and prevents him from engaging as an effective team member.
The study goes on to say, “The results indicated that an employee’s work loneliness triggers emotional withdrawal from their organization, as reflected their increased surface acting and reduced affective commitment. The results also show that co-workers can recognize this loneliness and see it hindering team member effectiveness.”
The implications of an employee who feels lonely directly impact commitment, engagement, performance, and ultimately retention. While the heart of the matter is the well being of the person, organizations must realize the significance of loneliness on their workforce, and subsequently on their business.
RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU ARE…LONELY?
But how prevalent is loneliness? Recent studies have shown that 40% of people suffer from loneliness. A study done on older adults out of University of California – San Francisco put the number of those who suffer loneliness at 43%. These figures have doubled since the 1980s.
Most recently, Humana has found that social isolation and loneliness is the No. 1 social determinant that impacts an individual’s number of “Healthy Days,” a metric developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Humana uses to measure its initiative’s progress.
Not to be morbid, but loneliness leads to poor job performance, lack of engagement, sickness (physical and mental), depression, and even early death. All of these outcomes are a tremendous burden on our employees, and it’s time that HR professionals and business leaders realize the implications while finding ways to combat the phenomenon.
THIS IS AN ORGANIZATIONAL PROBLEM
With the broad spectrum of issues that loneliness brings, it’s important that organizations don’t treat the issue as a private, or individual matter. Because so many struggle with loneliness, and because it affects so many avenues, the issue should be considered an organizational problem that needs to be addressed for the sake of the organization and the individual.
WE NEED MORE HEART…
While you don’t want to force “compulsory fun”, being aware of inner-office interaction and socialization is an important step in facilitating relationships. Beyond all the potential programs, parties, and team-building exercises that could help, what we really need is more heart for one another. Maybe we need to ask, “How are you?”, and when we know someone is going through a difficult time, maybe we should dare to be a friend, and not just a colleague. Maybe it’s time to put down the phone or look away from the computer screen, and have lunch with someone…just to get to know them.