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Millions of workers are leaving work. Either by quitting or leaving the office to work remotely.
These various departures from the normal are leaving more and more people feeling disconnected and lonely. Seventy-two percent of global workers say they experience loneliness at least monthly, according to the research of over 2,000 respondents in my book, Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All In.
It’s likely that loneliness will continue to rise as people continue to retreat from the very place that offers them the best chance at lessening loneliness…the workplace. And if leaders aren’t aware of the issue and then not equipped with strategies to connect their teams, the workforce will continue to drift apart growing bitter, ill and unfulfilled.
The new leadership disciple required in the age of isolation is to lessen worker loneliness.
Why loneliness must be addressed
Loneliness is growing and is negatively impacting our physical and mental health. Lonely workers are 7x less likely to be engaged at work, 5x more likely to miss work and 2x more likely to think about quitting their job.
Additionally, the sensory fibers in our brains that register physical and emotional pain overlap. That means exclusion, disappointment, or loneliness are felt biologically the same as being physically hit. Exclusion, bereavement, or relationship troubles can be just as disruptive or distressing as physical ailments.
How can you expect workers to show up fully to deliver for teammates, clients, or customers with the invisible ailment of loneliness present? Lonely workers are distracted at best and debilitated at worst.
Maybe the reason we’ve ignored addressing emotional needs at work for so long is that they’ve been hidden from view. If an employee arrived at work with a bleeding appendage, you wouldn’t ignore the appendage and ask her to get to work. You’d address the injury and assess if she were fit for duty. The same level of concern and care should be applied to the social and emotional needs of the team.
Humans weave tangled social lives making addressing emotional needs like loneliness and belonging complex and unfamiliar. But the research makes clear that we have to address these needs if we are going to create a focused, dedicated and high-performing team.
Why address loneliness at work
The best place to tackle loneliness is at work. Work is littered with loneliness lifelines. Because loneliness is defined by the absence of connection, not people, work provides a place where people can connect to a purpose, routine, learning and meaningful relationships. And not to mention work is the activity we spend most of our waking hours engaged in. Outside of pastors and therapists, leaders have the best opportunity to throw these lifelines into the ocean of lonely people ultimately creating a stronger team, better organization and a healthier humanity.
Why leaders must address loneliness
When workers board the metaphorical bus of work, their well-being becomes a leader’s business. While leaders cannot control what their team does outside of the bus, leaders can control how seen, safe and engaged the team is while on the bus. As the team leaves the bus for the evening, weekend, or for greener pastures, how leaders made them feel while they were on the bus has the potential to impact the team member’s off-work behaviors and ripple across the entire community.
Leaders don’t need to be a therapist or psychologist. And they don’t need to diagnose mental health conditions or heal emotional scars. But rather, look for signs of loneliness and opportunities to create more connections across their team.
It only takes one person to boost belonging and lessen loneliness. You don’t necessarily need to persuade other leaders, or get buy-in from your team, or overhaul your company culture. There are subtle shifts you can make as a leader to completely change the well-being of your entire team.
The healthiest organizations have found a way to have concurrent commitments to human dignity and performance. They don’t sacrifice the well-being of employees for high performance. They also don’t sacrifice performance to bend to every need of their employees. They strike a balance. When you lessen loneliness among your team, it improves employee well-being and organizational excellence.
Ducking, dodging and disregarding loneliness at work can’t continue. It’s time to address loneliness. We need more leaders to intervene and turn the tide on this crippling condition and to help their teams and businesses thrive.