How to Combat the Workplace Loneliness Epidemic

By: Christina Zurek
woman working on laptop outside of the group
It’s early morning as I prepare to call in for another meeting. These days it feels like I'm seeing and engaging with my colleagues more than ever before. Yet, as connect as I feel right now, I can't help but wonder: Are we perhaps lonelier than we’d like to admit while we sit staring at our screens?
Creating human connection in the workplace isn’t easy—but it’s well worth it. Emotional intelligence (EQ), considered by many to be the strongest indicator of job performance and career success, gets a significant boost from meaningful interaction. (Think of EQ as the ability to empathize with those around you.) The more we interact, the higher our EQ. Plus, social connections give us a sense of well-being, which helps to reduce stress and encourages trust among your team.
It’s no mystery that technological advancements are constantly changing the way we communicate. Gone is the world where directly talking—face-to-face or via phone—is the primary way to communicate. Texting, video chats and social media channels enable us to communicate with everyone faster and more frequently than any other time in history.

Paradoxically, this hyper-connectedness may be the reason loneliness is actually on the rise.

The more connected we become (digitally), the further apart we grow (emotionally; socially; even physically). We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may be even higher.
People spend about a third of their lives at work. Job isolation can have serious, and very negative, implications on both health and productivity. But you can push back against loneliness in the workplace.

Start Strong on Day 1

It’s likely you spend more workday waking hours with coworkers than you do with your own family, according to research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s important to help new-hires make connections right from the get-go. Introduce potential new-hires to your workplace culture before day one with things like informal group interviews. During onboarding, these opportunities can come in the form of small gestures like making time for team lunches, snacks near the new person’s desk or assigning a “work buddy” to address any questions the new person might feel awkward to ask their new supervisor. These early opportunities for social engagement help new hires make connections sooner.

Connect Through Collaboration

A collaborative workplace naturally cultivates a sense of community within an organization. When employees feel like part of the family they are compelled to go beyond expectations. Good internal communications are also essential to the smooth functioning of any business. Use technology to promote communication: Chat and video platforms can be effective pathways for social interaction. Organizations with strong online social networks are 7% more productive than those without. Additionally, companies with installed social media tools internally found a median 20% increase in employee satisfaction. To incorporate stronger communication and collaboration among your teams, consider promoting coworker appreciation and encouraging employee feedback. 

Engage with Your Teammates

Believe it or not, you can have fun at work. Switch things up and try some team building activities to get everyone energized. Group activities—both structured and less formal—are great ways to support connection and create an environment that embraces the unique identities and experiences of employees in and out of the office.

Internal events create continuity, unity and help employees experience the company as a whole.

These can be as simple as grabbing a cup of coffee with a new colleague or chatting with teammates around the coffee pot about Stranger Things. For a more formal opportunity, consider external functions like off-site lunches and retreats as other great ways to promote bonding.

Leave the Tower

Loneliness is pervasive, even at the top: in the workplace, half of CEOs report feeling lonely in their roles. Encourage leaders to establish bonds with employees that will enrich both audiences. And remember, technology and personal interactions don’t have to fight. Consider automating tasks and freeing up more time to focus employee connections.
At the end of the day, it’s our friends and colleagues who aid in the fight against workplace loneliness and the benefits of doing so are thoroughly documented. Working alongside our friends encourages us to work harder—and more safely—regardless of the task. Perhaps that’s why there’s greater profitability and less theft among business units with high levels of friendships.
If you’re fortunate enough to not feel lonely at work, consider yourself lucky. It’s a day-to-day struggle for many. The next time you have a chance, I encourage to follow my lead: put down your headphones, grab a cup of coffee and take a little time to chat with colleagues about the weekend.
Find the ITA Group How to Support Belonging in a Hybrid Workforce ebook, and discover how we implemented our own connection strategy with the goal of giving employees more meaningful ways to interact and how we can do the same for you.
Christina Zurek
Christina Zurek

Christina is an experienced leader with a passion for improving the employee experience, employee engagement and workplace culture. Few things excite her as much as an opportunity to try something unfamiliar (be that a project, development opportunity, travel destination, food, drink or otherwise), though digging in to a research project is a close second.