Loneliness is a topic that many of us don’t want to crack open, especially in the context of business.
And yet, here we are, smack dab in the middle of a pandemic that won’t seem to end and the prospect of continuing remote work, and it turns out that we are a lonely bunch of people at the moment!
Although the feeling of loneliness is pretty universal (most of us have felt it at one time or another), let’s drill down and define it for the purposes of this article. According to Millennial workplace expert Adam Smiley Poswolsky, author of Friendship in the Age of Loneliness: An Optimist’s Guide to Connection, loneliness is the gap between your desire for connection and the amount of connection you are actually experiencing in a given moment.
So what does this have to do with business?
It is painful to be lonely. Feeling isolated or detached from work impacts not only your performance but also your confidence, engagement, absenteeism, accidents, retention, creativity… and ultimately, profitability.
Yes: When employees feel lonely, the company’s profitability suffers.
61% of Americans Feel Lonely
I really enjoy Jean Chatzky’s podcast, Her Money. Recently I caught an episode that stated the following:
“The majority of Americans — 61% — feel lonely, according to data from Cigna, and the younger you are, the worse it gets — 70% of Millennials and 80% of Generation Z consider themselves lonely. Those feelings of isolation take a real toll, not just on our mental health, but also on our physical and financial health. Chronic loneliness is said to be as deadly to our physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
In the podcast, Jean introduced Adam Smiley Poswolsky, stating:
“According to the data Adam shares in his book, the average American hasn’t made a new friend in the last 5 years, and 75% of Americans are not satisfied with their friendships. And 1 in 4 Americans say they don’t have someone to turn to for meaningful conversation, including family members.”
Those statistics really hit me. They’re significant.
As I was listening to this episode, I stopped and talked to a woman who was walking her dog along my route; we chatted for some time and seemed to have a lot in common. I kept thinking, “Should I invite her over to have a glass of wine?” But I never did.
After she left, I wondered, “Did I just miss an opportunity to make a new friend?” The podcast states that the antidote to loneliness is to reach out and make a difference. Impact people. I could have made a difference by inviting her over, but I didn’t. (I’m searching for her again on my daily walks!).
Strengthening Your People Skills Takes Effort
Of course, loneliness isn’t a new phenomenon. People were desiring a lot more connection long before the pandemic hit — the pandemic just happened to make it much worse.
And loneliness isn’t limited to people of working age. As the new school year begins, I drive a carpool of five high school freshman boys to school. One of the first conversations I caught was about how strange it is to try to connect with other kids in person again.
They readily admit it’s not the same kind of interaction that they’ve grown used to with FaceTime, text messages or connections made through gaming. It requires a skillset they haven’t practiced in about 18 months, and it will require some effort to get those skills back.
I’ve heard stories about clients going back to work and meeting new hires in person for the first time. It sometimes makes for uncomfortable interactions as people re-learn how to interface with each other in a whole new way, i.e., “in real life,” as they say!
We’ve all gotten out of the habit and practice of socializing, and it’s now going to take a little effort and intention to gain those skills back. Don’t worry, we’ll get there.
How to Support Your Team
While many of us are headed back into the office, still others are facing the prospect of continued work from home. As we move forward, here are some ways to help your team work through any challenging emotions that arise.
Create opportunities for co-workers to get to know each other at a personal level. Many leaders have been trying to do this since the beginning of the pandemic, but whether you’re returning to the office or working remotely, it’s time to double down on these efforts to build connections in new ways.
Be a good listener. Be present. Eliminate distractions. It seems simple, but in a world where so much is coming at us all the time, it can be a struggle to listen well. However, having somebody listen to you deeply is actually critical for brain functioning.
This article from Medical Express talks about how people who don’t have somebody to talk to also have an increase of illness if they’re lonely.
While you listen, keep these things in mind…
Express appreciation to the person you’re engaging with and be specific about what they did and the positive impact it had on you.
Identify shared interests. What do you have in common with the other person’s experiences or feelings?
Keep an open mind. Be willing to hear opinions other than your own and share the “why” behind your opinions, not to convince anyone, but so that others can understand who you are and what you value.
Keep your commitments. For many of us, honoring your commitments is an expression of integrity and it builds trust. Of course, trust is the basis for any important relationship we have and following through on what you say you’re going to do can lead to a deeper connection with the other person.
Invite someone into a conversation. Most of us do feel alone, at least part of the time, and we want to be invited. Invite someone new into a conversation or invite someone you already know into a deeper conversation. Even if someone says no to your invitation, they will still appreciate the thought.
We’re all in the Business of People
No matter what industry you’re in, business is always about people. If you sense that people in your organization are feeling lonely or disconnected, reach out to them and connect.
If you are working remotely, consider finding ways to meet with your team in person, even if it’s just once per week in a park. That’s just enough to make new friendships, rebuild previous connections, and stay focused on a project. Even a little bit of time in-person can make a big difference.
Are you a leader looking for ways to support your team in staying or becoming more connected? Reach out today and we’ll create a plan that will help your team members feel happier and more productive.