In Dan Schawbel's new best-seller, Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, ​Schawbel interviewed 100 top young leaders from companies like Facebook, Google, Uber, Nike, and Walmart to ask them how they viewed technology at their workplace.

While most agree that their teams are more efficient, informed, and connected, in most cases, the rampant use of technology can actually make the workplace more dysfunctional. It keeps employees constantly working, even after they leave the office, leading to burnout and health problems.

But that's just scratching the surface.

Schawbel's company, Future Workplace, partnered with Virgin Pulse to survey over 2,000 managers and employees in 10 countries for their Work Connectivity study.

According to Schawbel's account, the study found that almost half of an employee's day is spent using technology to communicate versus face-to-face. For example:

  • email (45 percent)
  • text messaging (15 percent)
  • instant messaging (12 percent)

The social effects on workers' overuse of tech devices should be a concern. Why?

Because it leads to loneliness in the workplace.

Slightly more than half feel lonely "always" or "very often" as a result of technology. Of those who cited email, over 40 percent said they feel lonely "always" or "very often."

The reason we should care, from a human and business standpoint, is that loneliness is an engagement killer. People at work have a high need for social connection in order to collaborate and perform well. And technology is widening the gap. 

The most alarming trend of all

In the study, one-third of the more than 2,000 employees surveyed work remotely, and they're much more likely to quit because of loneliness and low engagement.

In fact, only 5 percent of remote workers "always" or "very often" see themselves working at their company for their entire career compared to 28 percent who never work remote.

It's an alarming finding because in the past decade, the number of remote workers has increased by 115 percent.

Schawbel says, "While remote work promotes flexibility and eliminates commuting costs, it has made employees more isolated, lonely, and less committed to their teams and organizations."

Men, millennials, and introverts

So, who's really lonely at work? The study revealed that certain groups have a greater need for work companionship than others. For example:

  • Men (57 percent) feel lonely at work more than women (43 percent)
  • Introverts (63 percent) feel lonely at work more than extroverts (37 percent).
  • Younger generations feel lonely at work more often than older generations.
  • Gen Z (45 percent) and Millennials (47 percent) feel lonely at work more often than Gen X (36 percent) and Baby Boomers (29 percent).

Solution: Make more friends at work

To address this lack of human connectivity problem among certain groups, which leads to work performance and retention issues, the solution is simple: Make more friends. Case in point, from the study:

  • 62 percent of workers who have five or fewer friends feel lonely either "always" or "very often," and 72 percent say they aren't engaged.
  • 60 percent would be more inclined to stay with their company longer if they had more friends.
  • Gen Z (74 percent) and Millennials (69 percent) would be more inclined to stay with their company longer if they had more friends than Gen X (59 percent) and Baby Boomers (40 percent).

The bottom line of Schawbel's book and study is quite ironic and a head-shaker. What people in the workplace actually crave the most in the hyper-connected digital world is the opposite of where we're headed as technology advances: a greater sense of authentic human connection with others. This solves the loneliness epidemic.

Published on: Nov 30, 2018
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