Technology allows us to speak with others across the country and around the world without having to leave the office. While these modern-day opportunities may be convenient, they could actually be contributing to loneliness. We all have an innate need to be connected to others, to belong. Loneliness pulls us away from social connectedness and if not addressed it can impact office productivity, morale, and employees’ health.
Research shows that the impact of loneliness on mortality is equivalent to smoking fifteen cigarettes daily in health care outcomes and costs. Negative consequences of loneliness include, among others:
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Compromised immunity
- Increased risk of depression
- Shortened lifespan
Like many mental health conditions stigma exists around loneliness. Many people feel ashamed to disclose their feelings of loneliness due to fear of being negatively judged and treated differently by others. Ironically, the technology connecting us in and out of the workplace is the same technology that contributes to isolation. Despite the technologically advanced world we live in, more than 40% of American adults report experiencing loneliness. Additionally, loneliness has a significant effect on work output, limiting individual and team performance, reducing creativity and impairing reasoning and decision making.
Factors that contribute to loneliness include:
- Teleworking—employees working virtually may feel cut off from the rest of the team.
- Introverts and Extroverts—introverts working on a team of extroverts may feel they can’t get a word in edgewise. Extroverts surrounded at work by introverts may find it difficult to form workplace relationships.
- Personality Differences—office misunderstandings are common, but if not resolved, feelings of resentment may build up, eventually leading to self-imposed isolation.
- Lack of Social Support—employees may display signs of mental sluggishness that impairs productivity, stifles creativity and hinders decision-making.
If prolonged, these issues can lead to:
- Diminished productivity
- Physical and emotional stress
- Withdrawal from the team or absence from work
- Weaker team performance
This directly impacts an organization’s revenue, spending and organizational performance. The mental and physical effects of social isolation lead to higher costs for sick leave and health insurance claims. On the other hand, positive social relationships strengthen employee retention and productivity—positively impacting the bottom line. The best way to tackle loneliness in the workplace is to build a culture of connection and community.
Here are some strategies to consider:
- Take interest in people’s lives
- Remember the little things
- Tackle exhaustion
- Remember virtual colleagues
- Leave your desk once in a while
- Ditch the technology for a bit
- Be proactive about contact with others