We hear often from our teams, friends, and family, “I’m tired”. We quickly take this at face value, because when we think about it, who isn’t tired? We all feel like we’re in a giant rat race comparing our crazy, busy schedules to our neighbor’s crazy, busy schedules. At what point did it become a power status to be the busiest person in the room? When did that become bragging rights?
And sadly, exhaustion may very well be a mask or disguise for loneliness. The Harvard Business Review shared in an article from April 2018, “Loneliness is a painful and pernicious emotion. Defined as “a complex set of feelings that occurs when intimate and social needs are not adequately met,” loneliness is different from depression, being alone, or feelings of solitude. It has more to do with a person’s quality of social relationships rather than their quantity”.
With a world that’s more connected than ever before, one would assume that we would feel less lonely. However, what research is finding is the quality of our relationships has declined. While we have many connections, very few provide for intimate connections.
Why you should care?
According to another Harvard Business Review article from March 2018, “Lonelier workers perform more poorly, quit more often, and feel less satisfied with their jobs — costing employers upwards of £2.5 billion ($3.5 billion U.S.) in the United Kingdom alone”. The topic is also broached in Brené Brown’s most recent book Daring to Lead. Consultants and researchers have confirmed over the years that to increase the likelihood of a team member staying with your organization, you need to ensure that they have a “work best friend”.
What can we do as leaders?
1. Don’t shy away from the tough conversations or questions. It’s important that we are approachable and humble with team members so they know they can talk to us. There is an insane amount of guidance in Brené Brown’s book Daring to Lead and in Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Option B. I highly recommend you read them both.
2. Many cannot afford professional help. Be sure that you know what resources your organization offers and be able to provide team members with your Employee Assistance Program.
3. If you’re within the executive management team, reconsider your employee benefits to provide better mental health care. If you’re not within the executive management team, don’t be shy in letting them know how much it would mean to you to have better access to mental health care.
4. Have your organization sponsor an extra-curricular group, whether it’s softball, bowling, or a book of the month club. These all encourage camaraderie outside of the workplace that help build relationships inside the workplace.
5. Implement a buddy system for new team members. This gives each new team member a peer they can ask questions of as they build up their circle of safety within your organization. It also helps your current team member build up coaching skills through peer mentoring. Win-win.
6. Incorporate job shadowing into the workplace. Many team members work on specific tasks and may never interact with other departments. Not only will this help them view their job duties from a different lens, but it builds empathy and better understanding of other areas of your organization.
7. Be vulnerable. When you’re vulnerable with your team, they’re more willing to be vulnerable with you. This doesn’t mean that you should follow up their story with a story of your own, but it does mean that given the right timing, you need to be vulnerable with your team. We all fall on our face and we need to make sure they know about a time when we did so and how we stood back up.
8. Don’t forget to start the day with “Good Morning” and end the day with “Good Night”. This is such a simple step in setting up the day for your team on a positive note with connection right away and ending the day knowing all is well.
This isn’t the end all be all of avoiding loneliness in the workplace, but it’s a start.