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Loneliness at work

January 11, 2024

Numerous studies report that rates of reported loneliness in America have doubled since the 80s, with more than 40% of individuals experiencing loneliness and isolation that negatively impacts their lives. One factor contributing to these increases is the growing loneliness at work, the consequences of which are starting to be understood and seen. Experts and researchers are placing some of the responsibility for preventing the problem on employers and organizations. 

In this post we will explore:

  • What workplace loneliness looks like
  • The impacts on workplace dynamics
  • The impacts on personal wellbeing 
  • How a team can prevent workplace loneliness
  • What to do if you experience loneliness at work

Loneliness at work looks like: 

While loneliness at work may be a personal problem, it is not a private one. Studies show that when there is a team member experiencing loneliness it typically becomes obvious to the rest of the team, who in turn see it as hindering the productivity of the entire group.

When someone experiences this their performance is significantly compromised, affecting the entire team. The team member may: 

  • Begin coming late to work in order to avoid beginning-of-day interactions
  • Skip work entirely
  • Avoid or refuse to engage in group activities, causing hard to overall performance and advancement opportunities 
  • Communicate less with colleagues 
  • Neglect to pursue roles or tasks to elevate themselves professionally 
  • Be involved in workplace accidents 
  • Stop putting forth effort into day-to-day work tasks
  • Leave the organization

Appear unfriendly and unapproachable, causing tension in the team

What causes workplace loneliness?

In order to prevent these dynamics from affecting our teams, it may be useful to know what causes loneliness in the workplace. Some factors include: 

  • A clash in the personality of the company’s culture and the individual
  • Onboarding that fails to help employees integrate with their team
  • Individuals spending less time in an organization than they once did
  • A team culture where showing emotions isn’t the norm

Loneliness at work: impacts on one’s personal life

Personal lives are significantly impacted when individuals feel isolated at work. Some results include:

  • Increased stress levels in and outside of work
  • Depression 
  • Heart problems
  • Substance abuse risk
  • Hindered decision making
  • Poor work performance

Preventing loneliness at work

It is important that managers are aware of the issue of workplace loneliness and identify team members who feel isolated. 

Are you a manager or in a leadership position? You can:

  • Make sure to seek out new hires on your team or even in other departments and do your part to make them feel welcome. 
  • Step away from your desk. While it may be necessary to spend a lot of the day at your computer, look for opportunities where things can be done in person. Do you need to schedule a meeting with someone in your department? Walk over and let them know. Do you need to discuss a project? Can it be done face-to-face rather than through email?  
  • Get outside the office with your team members when appropriate. Can you invite someone to go to lunch or to get a coffee?
  • Seek people out. Studies show that those experiencing loneliness are hesitant to speak to others about the issue. 
  • Use technology to your advantage. Built-in social networking is a great way to keep in touch with team members. 

Experiencing loneliness at work? What to do. 

What should you do if you are experiencing loneliness at work? If you find yourself feeling lonely at work it is important that you recognize it as a sign that your circumstances need to change and to take action. Here are some tips: 

  • First, it is important that you don’t blame yourself. There are many factors that contribute to feelings of isolation at work. 
  • Learn the power of a compliment. Kind words are a great conversation starter and an easy way to express interest in a colleague. 
  • Whenever possible, interact with your co-workers face-to-face or over the phone instead of relying on email. 
  • Try engaging with someone outside of your department. 
  • Use LinkedIn as a way to initiate a connection. This will provide instant conversation starters as you learn about their previous work, shared connections, and educational background. 

Remember, everyone in an organization plays a role in preventing the epidemic of loneliness before it spreads. What are some actions that you can take in the next week to connect with your team members? 

More about workplace dynamics:

Four current workplace trends to keep watching

Healthy vs Unhealthy Workplace Conflict

Managing eustress vs distress

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