Why are we so lonely?

Do you remember the proverbial “watercooler chat?” Or even catching up in the breakroom in the morning? When topics ranged from the game last night to who got voted off the island in Survivor? Maybe you talked about work for a bit, but most of the conversation was warming up for the day and building relationships with our colleagues.

Flash forward to 2024. It’s tougher to recruit and retain top talent and all of us seem to be running faster than ever. That 5-minute chat has become a nod and a wave—maybe even the luxury of a “How you doin’?” (Don’t worry, HR, I’m not talking about Joey Tribbiani here.)

Amy Blankson, cofounder of the Digital Wellness Institute, estimates that adults today receive an average of 237 notifications per day and that workers’ screen time has increased 30% since 2020. Which means our “relationships” with each other are increasingly digital—making personal connections more difficult.

According to a recent report from TheLi.st, Berlin Cameron, and Benenson Strategy Group, nearly 80% of white-collar employees say they feel lonely because of their job, and 43% say the loneliest time of their day is “being at work.” I don’t know about you, but that rings true for me as a remote worker. Still, we put out a happy post now and then and we smile for the camera during our meetings.

Thankfully, there are some relatively easy ways to connect with your work colleagues across screens and time zones. Here are a few tips to get you started:

For the team leader or CEO

Encourage team building sessions in person at least once a year.

While it is an additional expense, there is something special about the bonds and camaraderie built during an in-person gathering that far outweigh the costs. Most great team building events involve lots of laughter and experiential learning—at least that’s how I run my team building sessions. And you’ll always have something to talk about later. Even if it’s just complaining in the corner with your coworker about how much you hate team building exercises!

For the mid-level manager

Plan a 10-minute online coffee break on a bi-weekly basis.

During your coffee break, make it a true break from work. Encourage your team to share stories about themselves or something they find interesting. They could share about their favorite team or hobby. Maybe they discuss their favorite food or song. Jill Tomalin from America’s Credit Unions is known for asking people to talk about their first concert. Anything you can do to get them talking to each other about a non-work project will encourage their communication on a work project.

For the non-manager

Share your video on your Teams and Zoom meetings.

All of your meetings and training sessions. No matter what your hair looks like. No matter if the cat constantly climbs across your keyboard. No matter how much sleep you got last night. (Or didn’t.) Let people see a tiny slice of what it’s like to be you. Engage in the chat to practice your networking skills. Yes, saying good morning in the chat counts as engaging. Sitting with your camera off and your phone in hand posting about how much you hate online meetings does not.

For everyone

Make a list of the people in your various work groups. Include your immediate team, any project teams you work with, and the sub-groups you’re a part of. Set a 5-minute appointment with yourself once a week and take that time to review the names on your list. Pick one person who did or said something memorable during the past week. Maybe they made you laugh when tensions were high. Or they came up with an idea that has the potential to make your job easier. It could even be someone who kept the chat going with ideas and reactions to help keep others engaged. Drop a quick note to that person and share the impact they had on you. Be as specific as possible and let them know how they made your day a little bit brighter. I guarantee both of you will feel less alone.

Relationships at work are essential to not feeling quite so lonely. Work relationships provide a way to connect you to another human being who can relate to what it’s like to be you. Those connections are what stem the loneliness of our overly busy lives and remote work. Speaking of remote work, it’s time for me to jot off a quick note to my colleague, Paul Robert, to thank him for sharing pictures of his new grand baby. And if you’d like to connect with me, reach out any time at angela@cudifference.com or connect with me on LinkedIn here.

Angela Prestil

Angela Prestil

As Senior Consultant for CU Difference, Angela brings a distinct specialty set in the critical areas of employee engagement, leadership development, and member loyalty strategies. She has helped hundreds of ... Details