Living in the most technologically advanced age has brought along a plethora of wonderful things. Unfortunately and even paradoxically, this hyper-connectedness to our myriad of devices may be a key reason why loneliness and stress are on the rise.
According to AARP's numbers from a 2010 report, loneliness has doubled since the 1980's. Over forty percent of adults in America feel lonely. In fact, a new study presented less than a week ago at EuroHeartCare 2018, which is the European Society of Cardiology's annual nursing congress determined that loneliness can be a strong predictor of dying too soon.
While this study focused exclusively on people's physical health, loneliness is also a growing issue inside the workplace. Loneliness and feeling isolated at work can lead to declines in productivity due to mental and emotional exhaustion.
People spend around a third of their lives at work. While the U.S. doesn't directly track the financial impact from disconnected workers, you can get a general idea of its potential impact by looking at the effects that the U.K. shared.
Loneliness is such a concern there, that a "minister of loneliness" was appointed and the estimate from loneliness affecting the workplace is $3.5 billion a year.
While the stats may seem dire, it's far from being an impossible situation to swing back in a positive direction. As you're attempting to improve loneliness in the workplace, here are four key actions and habits to infuse into the company DNA.
1. Create opportunities for new connections during the pre-hire and post-hire process.
I don't know about you, but I remember transferring to a different school during my younger days and was filled with a truckload of anxiety about how things would play out. While the workplace is drastically different from elementary school, both are similar as far as the potential anxiousness that you can feel when entering the new terrain.
With this knowledge in mind, it's important to start building a more connected workplace culture before the potential employee agrees to their new job. Activities such as introducing potential new-hires to members of the team and company culture through informal meetings and events before day one can go a long way toward alleviating potential feelings of isolation.
Once they're on board, team lunches, gifts for the "new person", and even setting aside time for the new person to learn about his coworkers are possible solutions to create engagement and build connections faster.
2. Create cultural principles built around empathy and compassion.
When it comes to creating a culture that is high performing, traits such as respectfulness, honesty, support, and empathy are no-brainers. Empathy is especially important due to it potentially helping alleviate burnout and work exhaustion.
Lastly, another key factor is compassion. Research published in 2014 by Jane Dutton, co-author of Awakening Compassion at Work and professor at the University of Michigan came to the conclusion that compassion could be a key tool in fostering improved levels of workplace resiliency.
3. Schedule frequent internal and external events.
At work, it's tempting and easy to fall into a steady routine of showing up and getting the job done without much else added. While being efficient and effective is certainly important, it's also important to seek enjoyment. Group activities, both formal and informal are effective ways to elicit more connection and engagement which creates a richer company environment.
While meeting within the office is great, taking time to plan formal events that are external such as off-site lunches or retreats can go a long way in building stronger connections.
4. Prioritize wellness.
There are a vast amount of benefits to wellness programs and ensuring your employees arrive to work each day well rested. But moving beyond the financial and physical benefits of wellness in the workplace, perhaps the biggest benefit is the opportunity to forge stronger connections within the company.
Activities such as group challenges or even competitions in various sports where the teams are divided by departments are a great way to build up the culture and engagement.
Loneliness is no longer something we solely relegate to people who are sad or depressed. Loneliness is something that is often times, invisible to the eye and affects more people than we think. As you go about your day, look up, keep your phone in your pocket, and take a minute to talk with the person beside you.
You could be helping in more ways than you can imagine.