How to prevent loneliness in the workplace

Humans are hard-wired to be part of communities, so why do we lose that at work? Doug Upchurch looks at why feeling isolated could be the next epidemic

In an increasingly technological world, workplaces are experiencing a decrease in human connection to the extent that loneliness has been labelled an epidemic in a recent Harvard Business Review article

These days we are often matrixed in a number of – at least partly – virtual teams. By 2020, it’s possible that up to 75 per cent of workers will be remote in some organisations. Most of us face a screen all day and generally jump right into our own little silo every morning.

According to research, lonelier workers perform more poorly, quit more often and feel less satisfied with their jobs — costing employers upwards of £2.5bn in the UK alone.

In addition, less than a quarter of lonely people can say they are in excellent health. In fact, a recent study conducted by Brigham Young University found that loneliness can shorten a person’s life. Clearly in the workplace this can lead to a whole host of significant issues, including stress, disengagement, lack of productivity and absenteeism. 

So how can we prevent loneliness in a technological age?

Treat your work like the community that it is

We believe that rediscovering our humanity through community is the key to addressing the loneliness epidemic. A long time ago human life was lived in communities, clans and tribes. The idea of ‘community as life’ is coded right in to our humanity, but throughout the years the workplace has moved further and further away from this idea.

Take off your corporate mask

Don’t put a corporate mask on as you walk through the door every day; bring your whole self instead. By constantly trying to keep work away from life and life away from work, we stifle ourselves – which is a shame, because our ability to bring our whole selves to everything we do enables success and authentic community building. 

Develop self-awareness

Of course, to bring your whole self to work, you have to know who you are in the first place. Before any community can function properly, individuals need to take responsibility for themselves. This means understanding strengths and weakness, interpersonal preferences and how you come across to others.

Take yourself off autopilot 

We get into our own little routines – some of which serve us, and some of which don’t. It helps to stop and look around once in a while to find ways you can refresh your approach to your work and your workplace. Keeping your head down and getting to work is good, but you’re missing out when you don’t pick your head up now and again and stop to smell the roses. 

Encourage community-based work

Social good also does you good. Reminding yourself to commit small acts of kindness supports a culture that values one another and looks out for anyone who could be heading toward loneliness. Looking out for others is valuable to your professional life as well as the wider community. 

Keep your loneliness antennae up

Who around you could use a little more human interaction? How could you step out from your usual boundaries and build more connections in your own community? Work-based relationships can lift you up, enhance one of the main facets of your life and allow you to feed into a collective purpose – all of which will combat feelings of loneliness.  

Rediscovering, and even leveraging, our humanity has got to come from the ground up; each one of us should feel obligated to commit those small acts of kindness that will ultimately turn into a tidal wave that will wash away what is almost ubiquitous loneliness. 

We need to understand that when we’re feeling lonely we can take action, become a part of what’s going on around us and make steps to keep ourselves connected.

Doug Upchurch is chief learning architect at Insights